Review Summary: Reincarnating death metal's past
Perhaps one of the biggest problems with the “old school” revival in the death metal scene is the fact that bands are stating up front that they intend to repeat rather than innovate. It’s not that I don’t like a galloping romp through the riff-laden brutality that permeated death metal in the early 90’s, it is just that if I really wanted to relive those times I would much rather spin a record by one of the bands that pioneered and perfected it rather than a band that is only paying homage to it. The only real gems that spawn from the OSDM revival scene are a product of innovation fused with the generous riffing and tumultuous instrumental arrangements that hearken back to the days of death metal yesteryear. When done properly, this takes a rather two-dimensional copy and paste approach and transforms it into a three-dimensional record that has movement beyond the clichés that dwell at its core.
Using this formula, Horrendous have shown us that they too can take old school Swedish death metal and twist it into something that belongs in the 21st century death metal world, with their debut The Chills
prompting much acclaim and focusing more attention on this unknown South Carolina act. It is true that The Chills
felt more like a proof of concept rather than a refinement, so through an attempt to turn this promising beginning into some kind of tangible niche they have come to us with Ecdysis
. It jolts around from crushing riff to crushing riff while also retaining a fairly major focus on creeping melodies that sometimes swell into full-blown displays of grandiose guitar building, and when this occurs tracks like the opener “The Stranger” begin to gain clear headway when paired next to the more by-the-numbers pieces. That is where the main problem with Ecdysis
rears its head: the points when the band begin to enter this three-dimensional amalgamation of old school death metal and swirling progressive song structures stand so far ahead of the more traditional OSDM-worship that comprises a lot of the core tracks. In a way that creates an illusion of filler simply because the more straight-forward melodies of “Heaven’s Deceit” have trouble keeping up with the surprising technicality of “Resonator” or the doomy barrage of “Titan”, despite the fact that all of these tracks stand as very solid additions to the record.
Amidst a production which is quite frankly an excellent fit for this style, the instruments must always be at the top of their game. It becomes a noticeable absence when the bass no longer swells to the forefront like it does with the vibrant licks in “The Stranger”, and the frantic solos within “Nepenthe” trample the dull, crunching chords surrounding it that are, by comparison, dead weight. Similarly, it becomes obvious that the vocals sometimes lack the power or bellow to drive home a darker tone, instead opting to stick with a more maniacal wail that grows wearisome, especially when the instruments are calling for something a little more guttural. When things are on point, though, Ecdysis
is a colorful plane within the black and grey world of old school death metal imitators. The sinister riffing that introduces “Monarch” and the thrashing lick that follows it proves to be a more apt homage to the creepiness of early 90’s death metal than most other acts of this style manage to produce in their entire career, and for that we simply must tip our hats to Horrendous. Not only do they manage to capture the creative fervor that most seasoned death metal fans will know all too well, they translate it onto a canvas that is more refined than the ones that were available 20 years ago.
The knowledge of their influences and the ability to progress from methods that have had two decades to grow stale is a rare gift, but one that Horrendous possess. What is most disheartening about Ecdysis
, though, is that it is still closer to proof of concept rather than it is refinement, and much like The Chills
it only serves to draw more attention to the potential that this band has, and only increases the desire for them to fully realize it. I won’t complain too much, because as the solos fly and the drums wail, it makes you realize that despite its flaws, Ecdysis
is still well beyond the scope of most bands that simply set out to reincarnate the decaying old school death metal vibe. They have the correct magic at their disposal to conjure this corpse that is OSDM from its fetid, mid-1990’s tomb, they just have to learn to project it in a fashion that consistently ushers the sound into the future rather than leave it locked in the past to fade away once more.