Photo by Scott Kinkade

The kings of the Philly underground are here to remind the world how death metal is done, but they’ve also arrived to talk politics, philosophy, and—emotional intelligence? The resulting record is some of the most technically accomplished and mind-blowingly fun heavy music released in recent memory.

Indeed, Idol—the fourth LP and Season Of Mist debut from Horrendous, out Sept. 28—is one hell of a coming-out party for a band who sound like spiritual successors to the style’s forefathers, Death. However, Idol remains a series of ravishing individual thought patterns all their own, and the record itself reckons with a different—and more horrifying—pattern.

A big part of Horrendous’ past, present, and, likely, future success stems from their ability to craft insanely complicated music that is timeless in its desire to have as much fucking fun as possible. Guitarist and vocalist Matt Knox acknowledges that this is part and parcel of the Horrendous mindset. “I think we’ve always aimed to create music that was challenging but still deeply rooted in strong songwriting and the exuberant core that’s been at the heart of heavy metal since its inception,” he says. “I think we’ve always wanted to recreate the same feeling in our music that we had when we first heard the greats of the past—this sense that the music is larger than life, that it is invigorating, and that you are participating in this enormous power.”

“Speaking more concretely,” Knox continues, “we were very interested in creating more complex rhythms this time around, not only in the foundations of the riffs themselves but also with how they develop and are layered with melodies and contrapuntal lines. This album is definitely more complex from a compositional standpoint than our previous work, and it isn’t uncommon to hear moments where each instrument is playing a separate but interlocking rhythmic pattern. I also think it’s immediately noticeable that the bass work and drumming have become considerably more intricate, and we pushed ourselves to create drum beats and basslines with a unique feel.”

Idol philosophically deals with the state of the world in the past few years, especially how people often fuse their opinions into their identities in a really grotesque manner. “I think almost everyone experienced varying degrees of shock, confusion, anger, and bewilderment after the U.S. election in 2016,” Knox says, “but what really affected me was the tangible fear that I could sense in many of those around me—most strongly from my friends of color, from the LGBTQ community, and the women in my life. I think the sum of all this negative emotion became so overwhelmingly strong that it manifested physically in the space I occupied, almost as an emotional specter hanging over everything. I think this fear—along with the triumph experienced by those on the opposing side whose beliefs were validated—led to such a strong galvanization of personal belief in many people, culminating in the desire to act, often violently, on those beliefs.”

Knox explains that this phenomenon manifested in a rather horrifying edifice of convictions personified. “More than ever, I saw people becoming their beliefs, possessed by them in a sense, and completely losing themselves as they fused their identities with the ideology they supported,” he continues. “I think this loss of rationality is what really shook me—truth becoming secondary to fiction, thoughts completely dictated by emotion, reality twisted to fit each person’s individual perspective and desires. I think this is primarily where the idea of Idol came from. It’s a shout in the void, railing against the seeming need to have some external, higher power—[a] god, leader, ideology, or belief—to derive a meaning out of life and to carve out an identity for oneself.”

So, how does one fight this idolatry culture? Knox’s day job was, uh, instructive here. “I am a teacher, and more than ever, I see the importance of teaching empathy, critical reading, and analysis and of encouraging debate and the desire to share ideas,” he says. “In short, it is crucial that everyone grasps the notion that truth is never gained with ease and that almost everyone has a personal stake in the game and carries biases. I think we can fight this problem, but it will require a radically different means of teaching, which will involve removing unilateral instruction and fostering more creative thinking. I’m also a huge proponent of explicitly teaching social and emotional skills, because so many kids are growing up without developing any emotional intelligence.”

This time of turmoil leaked into Knox’s personal life, and it not only led to a subjective bend to the lyrics, it also impacted the writing and recording process. “There is definitely a huge element of personal struggle in this record as well,” he notes. “Everything I discussed in previous answers created the foundation for the atmosphere of the record and had a huge influence on the songwriting process, but it was further informed by my personal struggles with teaching. I had an incredibly difficult year that led me to deeply question myself: my role in society, my effectiveness as an educator, and my sense of self-worth. There came a point where everything seemed bleak, and this feeling found its way into the lyrics and the manic, claustrophobic compositions we created. The writing and recording process for the album itself was also incredibly demanding, and I think all of us were physically and emotionally drained by the end of it. All of these factors combined to take a pretty big toll on us.”

Was all the frustration, effort, and energy spent focusing on the negative aspects of the world around him worth it? The results of Idol are unequivocal: one of the most promising bands in metal have released their most complex, introspective, and fun record to date. Horrendous have created a masterpiece of prog death—but please don’t idolize them.

Purchase Idol here

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