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Devil In The Details: Horrendous — Ontological Mysterium Review

The latest offering by Horrendous sees the band continue to twist, contort, but most importantly evolve in ever-creative new ways.

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Photograph by Scott Kinkade

Words by Rohan (@manvsplaylist):

For those just tuning in, Horrendous are a Philly-based four piece that have built an impressive catalogue to date that features a style of death metal that leans heavily on intricate thrashy riffage, and complex & shifting tempo changes, rather than textbook monotonous chugs and cavernous vocals. The band is comprised of the three founding members, brothers KnoxMatthew on guitar and vocals, Jamie on drums – and Damian Herring, who takes on guitar duties as well as all aspects of the band’s recordings (more on this aspect to come!), who have been joined recently (2016) by Alex Kulick, who provides nuanced bass wizardry.

The band have stated that the material on this their fifth full-length, Ontological Mysterium, was penned pre-pandemic and had endured a lengthy process of iterative evolution. The experimentation that this material was afforded is vividly apparent to long-time fans of this band, who will recognize the many new tools deployed across this entire record. The first such apparent point of departure is the degree to which each song is given the scope to morph, evolve and progress. Now granted, Horrendous have never been a band to prescribe to generic song structures, but their progressive tendencies and abstract lineages are given the full spotlight to shine really characterize the overall feel of the album. This is a dynamic leap beyond any of their sequential steps made relative to preceding recordings.

These constantly shifting tempo changes and the variety in vocal patterns of forms, all executed by a band absurdly in-sync with one another’s dexterity, drives the immense amount of feel that defines the entire album’s persona. Having long been a fan of the band’s recorded work, it is in the live setting that Horrendous truly takes form. Fully-arched backs relentlessly have guitars aimed at the heavens. The work across this album captures that true Horrendous live experience more than anything else they have been able to lay down in the studio prior. The playing is precise and benefits from a fantastically rich sonic palate, but the whole feel of the album remains distinctly loose, free and fun. There are more than a handful of direct traditional metal references scattered throughout, from the screaming, harmonized soloing in Neon Leviathan or the dual attack that kicks things off on album opener The Blaze.

Another element that Horrendous wear more clearly on their sleeves in this album is directly embracing and highlighting true melodies in the forefront of their songs, perhaps most evident in the mid-tempo Preterition Hymn and the blistering Chrysopoeia. Whereas in the past these melodies have been hidden a little more under-the-surface, on Ontological Mysterium they are more frequently the driving force of the cut instead of being obfuscated by thrashing chaos. It’s hard not to miss some of the references on this record that first showed up on the stunning album from The Silver, Ward of Roses (2021) which featured the Knox brothers and made similar successfully use of very selectively deployed passages of strong, clean vocal lines. It will be interesting to see if the next step in Horrendous’ work leverages this asset further.

Make no mistake, their signature all-out thrash riff-fest is still here (see Cult of Shaad’oah and the title track), delivered once again with ferocity, precision and flair. The band craft angular, horizon-expanding riff sequences that demands and holds your full attention With a run-time of 38 minutes, Horrendous manage to strike the perfect balance of complexity & digestibility – translation: they cover so much ground, feature a plethora of tempo shifts across every cut, that the album both feels a lot longer than it actually is, AND yet it instantly makes you want to dive back in and take the ride again! There are so many layers and hidden portals throughout that one can’t keep up – in a good way.

The album was engineered, produced, mixed and mastered by guitarist (and all-round gear oracle) Damian Herring, just as each of their prior records have been. Herring has carved out an impressive resume of collaborations in his career to date at his very own space, Subterranean Watchtower Studios, and he once again delivers an impeccable sound for his band. The riffing is all crystal clear, but avoids sounding over-polished or mechanical – instead, the guitar tone throughout is dirty and rich, with sharp presence across the soaring leads. Each instrument is pronounced and clear, a must for a band with such divergent interplay. Herring has done a masterful job in capturing the raw spirit of the band, delivering it all in vivid, resounding fashion.

The band’s consistency also extends to the artwork adorning the cover. Long-time artistic collaborator Brian Smith once again provides the striking visual creation, featuring a tri-headed amorphous skull. Whereas Smith’s prior artwork for the band has been far more direct, this current piece matches the music’s fluidity, balance and depth, and provides a timeless work that is at once both captivating & challenging.

Ontological Mysterium is a thrilling, bold step forward for a band that is continuing to build upon its own impressive arsenal of material to date, and will sure to keep heads immersed in its vitality and intricate hidden details for the remainder of the year and beyond.

Ontological Mysterium is available now via Season of Mist (Stream/Order).

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Cover Artwork by Brian Smith


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