Forget whatever else you were going to get excited about this year. With the release of their third album Anareta, you can stop comparing Horrendous to anyone besides themselves. You can also leave this album on repeat. These songs are so fucking good that I feel like I’m doing the community a service by blasting this with my windows open. Each of these eight songs is a scorcher, a death metal blast of prog-fueled red-hot riffs adorning soon-to-be-classics. These songs have engines, ones that want to take you on epic journeys to fun, blissful places full of air guitars and invisible oranges. What do these engines run on? RIFFS.
Horrendous’ debut, The Chills, was an interesting slice of retro-death, but like many debuts felt like a grouping of their influences, in this case Swedecore’s gratuitous use of HM-2 pedals. They quickly surpassed that album with 2014’s effort, Ecdysis, which worked a moodier, more patient approach into their Sunlight Studios worship for greater emotional investment. Anareta goes a different way by mixing in more aggression along with hazardous levels of thrash and ’90s Florida-style death metal. It’s subtle, but it comes across through overall speed and an increase in pounding tension in each song. Rather than letting notes fly freely as in the past, they’re screwed down tight, locked into brilliant melodies. These songs revel in their simplicity – you, too, feel as if you could’ve written these riffs, if you had Horrendous’ firepower and the creative means to balance the rioting melodicism.
“The Nihilist” simply erupts, and it’s a mission statement. The song is erratic at first, a spiraling combination of left-field riffs that shouldn’t work but do, and then finally, naturally, it settles down into a crashing series of tidal drums rolls before blowing itself out. Jamie Knox’s drums actually pound, like you can hear the difference in weight with each strike depending what feeling he wants to evoke. As well, Matt Knox’s vocals have more bite, more bark; he uses his whispered Van Drunen-like rasp but overall favours a more primal roar. As an opener it’s immediately crushing because of its brevity; it knows just when to clamp down or when to let up.
Second track “Ozymandias” lets you know that these aren’t Ecdysis leftovers. Call it the “Global Metal Songbook Effect,” where if some songs draw you into yourself and the space between your headphones, other ones kick through speakers by opening up the world and everything that lies beneath. “Ozymandias” is a master-class of stress and release. Every time the song pushes towards a climax it withdraws just past the tipping point before reintroducing an earlier element – it’s the perfect example of having your cake and eating it too. The next track, instrumental “Siderea,” ditches the soft acoustics and the Van Halen theatrics which Ecdysis’ instrumentals featured. Hardly filler or guitar-wankery, “Siderea” actually has something to say and the riffs to say it loudly, so much so that I didn’t notice the absence of vocals the first time around.
Oh, those riffs. Horrendous just keeps them coming, keeps placing them one atop the other like an evil, auditory Jenga game. The riffs would be reason enough for conversion to the Church of Metal. Crunchy, melodic, gritty, and so, so inviting, these are riffs that wake you up after a hard night, intimately tangled in the sheets yet ready for another go. This is death metal that gets better with each listen, but never diminishes in size even if you can hear how all the parts fit together.
It’s easy enough to ride along with the rest of the album as none of the goodwill earned is squandered on a second of suck. “Polaris” and “Acolytes” both rip into more left-field riffs that are perfectly strange but make total sense. “Sum of All Failures” features a patterned acoustic intro reminiscent of every thrash album post-Ride the Lightning, but easily manages to push the song beyond nostalgia. “Stillborn Gods” hits all the grandiose notes required for one last epic as it’s yet another display of dazzling songcraft. Closer “The Solipsist (Mirror’s Gaze)” is a NWOBHM number that would bounce if it wasn’t coiled tighter than a snake. It’s a bit unusual to finish off an album with two songs that both fade out, but there’s also strength in that decision, as it leaves you wanting more.
With Anareta, Horrendous eclipses comparisons due to the quality of the material. These songs feel like they had to be made, had to be compelled out of the ether. The success of Ecdysis didn’t demand an immediate follow-up; Horrendous could have easily toured on those songs for years. Realistically, we should have concerns about rushed jobs and shameless capitalizing in this hurried internet age: no one wants an early Christmas present if it just means fancy-wrapped lumps of coal. Remember, though, that bands used to release albums almost yearly. Priest put out Sad Wings of Destiny in 1976, followed the next year with Sin After Sin, and then followed that with Stained Class in ’78. Metallica, Maiden, Darkthrone, Opeth, all these greats were prolific in their early years. Why? Because they were hungry, they had a glut of ideas, riffs, and songs, and they just could. Precisely because I’ve invoked the heralded masters, then, be brave. This is a gift you’ll want to take.