Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Horrendous - Ecdysis [2014]

Ever get the feeling that death metal bands are running out of titles? Me neither. As ''Ecdysis'' plainly suggests, it's purpose is to implement the evolutionary step that Horrendous, who with 2012's ''The Chills'' literally perked up goosebumps on my spine, like all of its counterparts, wants to take. The age is brave one, and novelty almost always, even if unwittingly, finds its way to some kind of success. That said, Horrendous didn't necessarily used innovation as a method to boost its way to the top records of 2012 when ''The Chills'' kicked more unkempt bottoms than most records that year. Its leprous voracity and atmospheric beauty was a surefire way to revitalize the gradually diminishing foray of old school death metal, but in reality, once you dig into it, putting aside the splendidly ominous atmosphere and olfactory goodness that it somehow projected behind a miraculous slew of riffage, ''The Chills'' is sheer bones and rotten flesh. So then is ''Ecdysis'' some sort of mega-transition? The ''Heartwork'' of Horrendous? Not necessarily. What seems to be the case here is the same kind of semi-evolutionary phase that bands like Morbus Chron and Tribulation aspired to with their most recent offerings.

For starters, Horrendous is a lot cleaner with their performance here; more manic, controlled and accessibly modern in contrast to the cavernous kaleidoscope of antiquity that was the main motif on the previous record. Yes, modernization does equate for a wider audience and perhaps a sharper overall sound, yet even during some of the stronger tracks I felt that clarity did not compensate for the lack of atmosphere, instead heralding an odd, even experimental approach with multitudinous progressive metal predilections. If it makes you feel any better, even the bass has risen from the primordial ooze into something that's incredibly audible in contrast. It's interesting enough to see a band of such primitive origin evolve from its putrid miasma into something far more accessible, yet, as said, this brings a few problems on the table. The absurdly implemented piecemeal conventions that engulf the record reduce the album's level grit to one far below its predecessor, and the focal point of old school death metal - the undying axiom - which is basically the maxim of ''if it's broke don't fix it'', seems to have dissipated to ''if it's broke, then shed some skin''. Hence ecdysis.

Don't me wrong, folks, Horrendous is still throwing huge, gnarly hooks, but there is an intense infatuation with melody and progressive elements that churns and diverts the music away from its previous state of gory putrescence. There are some unbelievably melodic and beautiful solos here, often leads that crawl discreetly into the hibernating core of the record, strings of somber, yet graceful melodies twisting and swerving up and down the guitar board, redolent of some mid 90's English death/doom powerhouse. If all of my prior implications didn't get through, get this: if you think ''The Chills'' was brooding, wait until you hear ''Ecdysis''. There is an odd disparity here because it seems almost uncertain what direction they are taking with the mournful overtone that they're harboring. On one hand, you have majestic, even epic, melodic death/doom paradigms like the ending, ''Titan'' which resonate with the lovely, hauntingly elegiac tone of the vocalist's torturous growls and a set of backup choruses, and on the other you have absolutely devastating, flesh-ripping beaters like ''Weeping Relic'' that smash through your skull with the sublime grit of the chainsaw guitar tone. Though the overall sound is indubitably dolorous, Horrendous challenges the boundaries of pain and agony by expanding their style to the widest net possible. This is a brazen, even obsequiously openminded gesture in the face of thousands of Swedeath and Autopsy drones who stalk the market shallowly, and it is a pleasing result considering it is what Morbus Chron and Tribulation did, being two revivalist death metal giants themselves.

There are some truly great tracks here. The opener, ''The Stranger'' may seem like a run-down attempt at combining death/doom, Swedish death metal and melodic death metal, but towards the end it grows to bountifully full of riffs and reckless abandon that it even compensates for its lengthy run time. Every track, no matter how dedicated to the art of tearing limb from limb, serves as a paean to mood and versatility in style, eventually burgeoning into something despondent. Even the flashy 2-minute rock n' roll throwback ''WHen The Walls Fell'' is cool. There are still tremolos, or semi-technical guitar twists here and there, even an occasional thrashy exuberance, like on ''Heaven's Deceit'', but it's apparent that the band has shaken off most of its leaves of the olden arts. If anything, Horrendous is still a huge fucking Pestilence fan. That much is evident from the maniacal, Martin Van Drunnen vocals that pervade the record, or even the kinetic melodies gyrating throughout, but it's almost as if there is a transition in influence from ''Consuming Impulse'' and ''Malleus Maleficarum'' era Pestilence to Pestilence a la ''Testimony of the Ancients'' or ''Spheres''. In the end, ''Ecdysis'' becomes quite a mercurial album. It's difficult for me to imply stuff directly, but in essence, I have done my best to some it up. My gripe was that I simply didn't feel the sort of brilliant, carnal tenacity that was displayed on ''The Chills''. Maybe that was the perfect caterpillar, and ''Ecdysis'' the crossover record, the butterfly slowly, but not yet surely, breaking free of its cocoon, waiting to emerge into the perfect butterfly. If that is the case, folks, then we may have something even better than ''The Chills'' in store. Let the little hatch.

The Stranger
Weeping Relic

Rating: 80%

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