Death Metal – don’t you just love it? For a genre that seemed to be dead and buried back in the late 90s – drowning in an obsession with sweep-picking, grunting and triggered, plasticky gravity blasts – at the start of 2016 it now finds itself in the rudest of health. Classic titans such as Immolation and Obituary continue to pummel their audiences whilst relative newcomers Dead Congregation, Necros Christos and Grave Miasma are enthralling listeners across the globe with sounds that simultaneously bludgeon and horrify in equal measure, all the while managing to inject a real sense of creativity back into the genre.
Firmly positioned within this second category are US trio Horrendous. They’ve only been active since 2009 yet have already managed to forge three full-length albums, each one upping the ante on the last. Their latest – ‘Anareta’ – sees the band expand their sound yet further, taking the Swedish Death Metal indebted clatter of their debut ‘The Chills’ and fusing it with more expansive passages laced with a definite sense of progression and (dare I say it?) melody. At its heart though beats a palpable sense of songwriting inspiration, riffs twisting and turning, songs ebbing and flowing. It’s this songcraft that has seen the album gain rave reviews from all corners of the press and lurk atop the ‘end of year’ lists of many a journo. Sticksman Jamie Knox is rightly proud of their latest creation and the response it has garnered.
JK: “We are very proud of the album – we worked our asses off during the writing and recording processes, and I think everything paid off well. It is of course very nice to get positive feedback from people, magazines, etc. too, as it helps to validate the large amount of time and effort we put into the process. It would be harder to convince ourselves to spend this time (while two of us have full time jobs) if literally nobody cared to hear it, although I’m sure we would still do it in some capacity because making music is what we love to do.”
AN: It’s hot on the heels of the previous album – 2014’s ‘Ecdysis’ – which in itself was released fairly quickly after your debut ‘The Chills’. What makes Horrendous so prolific?
JK: “I’m not sure, but part of this probably comes from the fact that the three of us are now geographically close (between Washington, DC and Philadelphia). In the past, we were spread out by a 12 hour drive, so we didn’t get together often. So we play together more, and also Matt in particular has spent more time on his own getting ideas for songs together. Then when we meet up to jam, there are lots of ideas to work on, and our musical chemistry allows us to finish songs fairly quickly. We figure that if we have all these ideas naturally springing up, we might as well release them instead of delaying things. We may not always live this close together, so we are taking advantage of the situation.”
AN: There has been some clear development of your sound across the three albums – from the more classic, early 90s Swedish death metal vibes of ‘The Chills’ to the more expansive sound of ‘Anareta’. Is this a conscious decision?
JK: “Not specifically, although I think at this point we are more willing to take what could be viewed as “risks” that might develop during the writing process. Back during the demo and Chills days, I think we were still crafting our sound and developing our chemistry together. Over time, we have improved a lot as songwriters and various influences have crept into our sound. Because of this, our sound has developed and will probably continue to do so in a natural way. We really just let things flow during the process and it tends to work out well for us.”
AN: I can hear a great deal of mid-period Death mixed in with the aforementioned classic Swedish death metal and even a touch of Nothingface-era Voivod at some points! Am I correct? What were they key influences of this newest record?
JK: Sure, we all love the band Death and Matt and I in particular love Voivod. And Swedish death metal has been an influence from the beginning, so these all influence the sound. Good guesses, because sometimes people mention “obvious” band influences that we in fact do not listen to haha. I don’t know that I could pinpoint specific key influences of the new record, except to say that we listen to tons of stuff, including death, black, thrash, and traditional metal, punk, folk, indie rock, electronic, jazz, etc., and I think our songwriting has been shaped in different ways by all of these types of music.
AN: There’s a fantastic balance of musicianship and technicality on this album that never threatens to overshadow the essence of the songwriting. What our your views on technicality within death metal (or even extreme metal in general)? Death metal can have a reputation for emphasising technicality over songcraft at times, reducing music to little more than athleticism – do you agree with this?
JK: “Definitely, it seems that being brutal/technical was what mattered to a lot of bands and I think that’s why the whole old-school revival thing got big in the last five years (although many of these bands are just bland worship bands). I don’t think you need to have particularly technical music to be good – songwriting is most important. I like plenty of bands (metal and non-metal) that are clearly not talented musicians, but their music is great because they know how to write a great song and instil emotion in the listener. Even so, a tasteful dose of technicality can make things really interesting in the right context as long as it isn’t overdone. Technicality for technicality’s sake is incredibly boring.”
AN: The songs on ‘Anareta’ are clearly finely-crafted with a great deal of attention paid to structure and details. Are you able to provide us with an insight into the band’s writing process?
JK: “Jamming is incredibly important and allows us to really flesh out the songs. It also gives all members a chance to contribute to the writing process. We generally begin with a handful of ideas for a song and go from there. We are very careful to ensure that songs remain interesting throughout their run time and avoid becoming repetitive. I hate when a band has great songs but the record as a whole is unlistenable because it is essentially the same thing over and over for 50 minutes. We generally get the skeletons of songs together (much of the ideas and structure come from jamming) and then begin the recording process, adding intricacies as we go. All guitar leads, bass, and vocal patterns are written during the recording process.”
AN: The current trend within the death metal underground in 2015 is to plough a murky, echoey, more cavernous path – ‘Anareta’ however presents us with something far cleaner and sharper with a very defined sense of melody. Is this a deliberate move to ‘buck the trend’ so to speak?
JK: “We certainly avoid that “cavernous” path intentionally, as we aren’t very interested in a lot of that type of death metal. In general, we prefer riff-based stuff over bands that just sound heavy, murky, etc. (for example, Death is probably my favorite death metal band). And we really love bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Megadeth – riffs and memorable songs are what we live for. If you have lots of riffs, you don’t want them to be hidden by a murky production, so Damian does his best to give us a production that still sounds heavy but is very clear.”
AN: What is your view on the current state of the death metal scene? It seems to me after many years of treading water, the general consensus is that the genre is in rude health – would you agree?
JK: “I don’t know, I think it’s doing ok. There seem to be more bands than ever. Many of which aren’t really that great overall (far too much overt worship), but there are also a lot of bands now starting to try new things and take the genre forward – this is important because in the last 5 or so years, it seems that worship has been the norm. Imitating old bands without bringing anything new to the table or even subtly developing your own sound is a problem, because the genre becomes stagnant and boring. But more bands now are seeming follow their hearts by being creative and treading new ground, which I think is great. Look at Tribulation – plenty of people don’t like the new album because they took a big risk, but I think it’s one of the best of the year and is a great thing for the genre and metal at large.”
AN: What does the Horrendous live show promise (for those of us who have not yet witnessed it)? I notice that bass duties are shared on record between the two guitar players/vocalists – do you have someone who fills in on bass live?
JK: “We do not currently play live with bass, but we are looking into getting a live bassist soon. I’m not sure exactly how to describe our performances since I of course don’t really get to witness them from the outside, but we are a band without frills basically. We don’t really have an image that we indulge – we just get up there and rip through our songs. We are three friends who love music and heavy metal, so we just try to play our music as powerfully as we can, hoping that it touches other people. We do our best to cover our whole discography all the way back to the demo when set times allow for it. Our shows are fairly rare (we have played about 30 times since 2009 when we formed), but we are trying to play more often now.”
AN: What (or who) is Anareta? Is there an overriding theme to the album’s lyrical subjects? There’s a whiff of mythology and theology coming from the song titles… is it possible to elaborate?
JK: “Anareta, meaning “destroyer,” is an astrological term for a planet that negatively influences one’s life and brings doom (my understanding is that everyone has their own specific one that depends on the timing of his or her birth). The general themes of the album’s lyrics touch on developing personal philosophies, searching for some kind of truth, and an awareness of the absurd existence we all live in. The album’s lyrics were not intended to center around a theme, but we all contributed some lyrics (with Matt handling most) and these general themes crept out. We spent a lot of time deciding on the album title after the album was complete, and Anareta seemed like the best fit. “Anareta” fits into the lyrical themes (in my mind at least) as a representation of negative and dangerous areas we can wander into while we search for truth and try to interpret the world around us.”
AN: Dark Decent are a label who are starting to garner a massive reputation for consistency and quality within the underground. How do you find working with them?
JK: “Dark Descent is easy to work with. Matt Calvert is very easy going and doesn’t put a lot of expectations on us as a band, in terms of touring and release schedule. At this point, he seems to trust our musical vision and ideas, so we basically tell him what we want and what we plan to do, and he is almost always supportive. We have been with him since the beginning of his label (I think our demo was the third or fourth release), and it has worked out well for both parties.”
AN: What next for Horrendous? Do you have plans to inflict your particular brand of ripping death metal upon the UK in the live environment?
JK: “We would love to make it to the UK and Europe, and I think we will sometime in the near future (in the next year or two). We are getting a lot of offers to play live now in general, so I think it’s a matter of time before we plan the trip. Otherwise, we are working on material for LP4 (writing is mostly a continuous process for us that only stops to record once we build up enough material) and we are trying to plan some live shows. Getting a real tour together is a priority, as we have never played more than two days in a row at this point.”
AN: What are your favourite death metal albums of all time?
JK: That is tough, but I’ll give you five of my favorites off the top of my head:
“Any Death album from Human through The Sound of Perseverance (all are incredible – my favorite death metal band)
Autopsy – Mental Funeral (great album from an underappreciated band)
Cryptopsy – None So Vile (there’s something very fun about this album – not really into this style much otherwise)
Dismember – Like an Everflowing Stream (my favorite of the Swedeath group)
Cynic – Focus (I love their entire career, but this is one is actually a death metal release)”
AN: Thank you so much for your time and congratulations again on the great record – if you have any final words for Ave Noctum readers, please share them!
JK: “Thanks for all the support!”
(Interview Frank Allain)