*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #31 of the SBR Album of the Week.
Swiss metal quartet, Herod, are hard to define. They write crushing riffs that are heavy enough to make your eyes water. Their sombre atmospherics leave you trapped in a self-imposed maze of distress. Much of their rage comes from a psychopathic black spot that speaks to the dormant parts of your mind. To complicate matters, polyrhythms are as important to Herod as the menacing weight of their guitars, and their amp distortion is thicker than the average sludge metal band. Now on their third album, they approach their latest record with the same questions for the listener – is this post-metal, is it prog, might we call it complex groove metal, or can it slip into the progressive-sludge genre?
The man behind this chaotic equation is Pierre Carroz, who created the idea of Herod in 2014 and set out to turn it into a collective. Joining on vocals is Mike Pilat, who some of you may remember as the vocalist for The Ocean’s 2007 album, Precambrian. You only need to look at the artists Herod have shared a stage with since their formation to understand their appeal – Napalm Death, Obituary, Carcass. Indeed, 2019’s Sombre Dessein LP included a guest spot for Carcass legend, Bill Steer. Yet a simple analysis of the music suggests the two Swedish giants of Meshuggah and Cult of Luna are the best starting point for understanding Herod. Their art is existential, paradoxical, and bogged down in a mundane world that must not be the answer to the end of history.
Opener, ‘The Icon’, starts with chest-convulsing distortion and frantic drum action. Listen how it layers competing channels of dissonant guitar noise and embeds a stream-of-consciousness voice into the mix as if burying a city in the cloak of an atom bomb. The vocal roars are monstrous enough to bring down the walls of Buckingham Palace. Crispy Meshuggah riffs crash in and out like meteors descending to earth. Carroz cites Dillinger Escape Plan as a big influence, but you’ll hear more of the Norma Jean mathcore in this audio puzzle. The same applies to ‘The Girl with a Balloon’, where the sparse echo effects give way to double-jointed guitar shapes as if merging the primal aggression of Neurosis with the rhythmic pounding of Gojira. Relentless is not the word. Think of it more as a catastrophic overflow that cannot be contained by man-made defences.
What is it about the rage and disenchantment of this music that invites so much empathy in the listener? The song titles tell you all you need to know about the emotional anguish. ‘The Edifice’ and ‘The Becoming’ conjure images of the white-collar man on the train who knows a nervous breakdown will drag him into the abyss sooner rather than later. He longs to shed the work suit. His ideal destiny is to evolve into an awe-inspiring chimera. Of course, this will never happen. We cannot transcend our humanity. But the face-smashing guitars of ‘The Obsolete’ might convince you of a phantom invincibility. Here, violent staccato movements and superhuman aggression alternate with murderous down-picking guitars for supremacy. Let’s hope the upcoming Godflesh album can match this intensity.
Knowing when to blaze and when to preserve energy defines bands in Herod’s world. They understand the importance of experimenting with dynamics and how the subtleties of melody can enhance the vigour of the music. The avant-garde wonder of ‘The Ode to…’ allows you to enjoy the captivating harmonies of the famous Les Mysterès des Voix Bulgares choir over the top of a succession of misaligned guitar and drum patterns. Count the beats and see how long you can stay in common timing until you wonder at what point the snares deviated away from their original pattern. It’s the closest you’ll come to a grinding metal embrace of Dead Can Dance in the glory of an abyssal experiment conducted by The Ocean.
Tempos seldom exceed 100 bpm on Iconoclast, but the hysterical guitar violence and teeth-baring rage will get under your skin. That’s the point. You must not accept the mediocrity of the civilised life, but you know we’ll all be savages without the responsibilities and social obligations that lead to a settled existence. Herod are that voice in your head that asks, “What if…?” What if this edifice we built called civilisation is an illusion? How does one survive when we return to the hierarchy of hunter and hunted?
If this is post-metal, it’s a new take on the genre with the rhythmic sophistication of Meshuggah just as important to Herod’s sound as their determination to answer the call of the wild. Nothing is original these days, but that does not mean innovations in music will cease to exist. Experimentation is the best form of evolution in art.
Release Date: 05/05/2023
Record Label: Pelagic Records
Standout tracks: The Edifice, The Ode to…, The Becoming
Suggested Further Listening: The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (2018), Psychonaut – Violate Consensus Reality (2022), Norma Jean – Deathrattle Sing for Me (2022)