The latest album by UK death metallers Horrified, Of Despair, is a huge step forward when compared to their debut Descent Into Putridity. The unholy, fetid stench of classic acts such as Autopsy was all over their debut, like flies on a corpse. Whilst there’s still a huge old-school death metal inspiration clear on Of Despair, it’s a more refined, intelligent creature. Don’t think this means the band have “gone soft” – there’s still plenty of filthy, dirty death metal on display here, and it’s undoubtedly crushing and heavy. But there’s also a more emotional, progressive edge to their old-school death metal assault, as well as moments of full-on death-doom that make Of Despair a deeply arresting listen, crushing both musically and spiritually.
It’s hugely clear that Horrified are taking their inspiration from the early to mid 90’s right from the moment the short introduction is over and “Palace Of Defilement” properly starts – the production is so authentic that it will have you double-checking exactly when Of Despair was recorded. There’s absolutely no danger of the record sounding flat and soulless, as so much modern death metal does. Likewise, the song-writing recalls those glory days, with a distinctive UK and European feel – it would be no surprise were it to be revealed that Of Despair is actually some long-lost Peaceville classic. Dirty, raw, and often vicious, this is just how I like my death metal to sound.
There’s a wealth of technical talent on display, most notably in the many intricate guitar riffs and leads throughout the duration of the album, and also in the way the band move from up-tempo crushing sections in to slower, death-doom mournfulness before reverting once more to brutality. Third track “Chasm Of Nihrain”, from around the 45 second mark, is a prime example of how the band can change the atmosphere and tempo multiple times in less than a minute but never lose momentum or feel disjointed. “Funeral Pyres” even experiments with My Dying Bridge-esque clean vocals towards the end. And, as with all albums that shift moods and tones so frequently, the less obvious talent of making it all flow and feel coherent is also evident. It results in Of Despair feeling exciting and arresting, a prime example of how a classic sound can be made to feel fresh and relevant simply by writing good songs and playing them with passion.
With so much going on over its 45 minute duration, and with the music often possessing such emotional as well as musical force and weight, it does mean that Of Despair can be an exhausting listen. It’s a little difficult to take it all in in just one sitting, though the flip-side of this is that there’s clear reward for repeat plays, with new elements and facets being revealed with time and familiarity. Such aspects reveal Of Despair for the ambitious record it is – hidden beneath a clearly 90’s-worshiping exterior is a band striving not to emulate those who have influenced them, but to build upon and learn from their legacies. It’s almost paradoxical to say that it’s advancing the cause of old-school death metal, but that’s how it comes across; this is no mere hero-worship or simple retread, but a heartfelt (and successful) attempt to explore what is possible whilst simultaneously staying true to the spirit and sound of the genre.
Of Despair is set for release on March 25th 2016, on CD through Stormspell Records, cassette via Till You Fukkin Bleed (limited to 70 copies), and a vinyl release is planned by Infernal Devastation Records (300 copies total, 200 black, 100 purple). Check out Horrified’s Facebook page for updates.