Horrendous / Ontological Mysterium Wonderful Unconventional Death Metal

I first crossed paths with East Coast Death Metal outfit Horrendous with a chance hearing of their 2012 debut release, The Chills, which impressed me greatly. So when the opportunity to review their 2014 release Ecdysis for MetalTalk, came up, I jumped at the chance.

Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium (Season of Mist)

Release Date: 18 August 2023

Words: Jools Green

I remember then how impressed I was at the degree of progression from the debut release, The Chills, to Ecdysis, but since then, they seem to have flown beneath my radar. 2015’s Anareta and Idol in 2018 both accidentally escaped my attention, undoubtedly a case of too many great Metal albums getting released and too little time to check them all out. 

Joyously, 2023 finds them firmly in my sights and earshot again with the release of their fifth studio full-length, Ontological Mysterium and once again, they have surprised and impressed me.

Horrendous - Ontological Mysterium
Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium. “They have surprised and impressed me.”

On the subject of being surprised, Horrendous drummer Jamie Knox told us that “Surprises always come up during writing. Spontaneous ideas pull you into new territory and enable the realisation of novel possibilities that previously were inaccessible,” when discussing the creation of this latest offering. 

I suspect that everyone that hears this album will feel similarly, particularly as Horrendous have always pushed their boundaries to deliver their uniquely unconventional take on Death Metal, merging it with their affinity for Metal’s glory years. 

“Ontological Mysterium is partly our love letter to the bombastic spirit of Heavy Metal from the ’80s and early ’90s,” Matt Knox told us. I’ll be honest. The first listen in, I felt a little wave of nostalgia welling up within me also.

Opening on the brief but impactful The Blaze, an eerie understated short piece of under two minutes, it’s a gradual builder. I love the mix of spoken word and screaming vocals, and the reflectively nostalgic ’80s feel to the soaring leadwork in the second half gives a promising suggestion of what is to follow with the rest of the album.

The next track, Chrysopoeia (The Archaeology of Dawn), reflects aspects of the previous piece and delivers a sublime contrast between the Prog Metal side of the track/album and the more brutal Death Metal side. 

Neon Leviathan is a breathtaking piece, delivering complex, slightly technical, but brutal elements, with superb bass lines and drum patterns emerging and still progressively melding the sound.

Aurora Neoterica is another short piece. Again under two minutes, it is an understatedly good, haunting and subtly complex instrumental, followed by Preterition Hymn, where a haunting repeat is punctured with acidic vocals. At times, it feels a little Atmospheric Doom inspired by the pace and haunting nature, a very thought-provoking piece.  

I love Cult Of Shaad’oah. It’s eerie and ominous, and the bouncy, ‘proggy’ mix of technical guitar work, sexy bass lines and growly and harshly vitriolic vocals is such a great combination. With the midpoint brief drum solo adding a drop of nostalgia also, along with a Death Metal side too, this is a superb track. 

Next up is Exeg(en)esis, which Jamie Knox says is one of their most unpredictable songs to date. “We just hit record on someone’s iPhone during the jam,” he said, “and realised that we had composed something that felt like a song, but with a very specific, lively energy, something that still feels like Horrendous, but almost from a different vantage point. 

“We crafted the song’s basic structure from the jam’s ideas, filled in a few gaps, and made an effort to inject some of that spontaneity during the recording process.” 

It’s another eerie beast of a track, with impactful punchy riffs, beautifully bizarre guitar segments and spoken elements, giving a wonderful freestyle feel. It is, as Jamie suggests, wonderfully unpredictable, beautifully unique and superbly crafted.

The complexity continues with the title track, Ontological Mysterium, which has a hugely engaging off-kilter repeat riff that dominates the track. Most importantly, it’s catchy as hell. 

The Death Knell Ringeth delivers thrashy squeals, sinister vocals that err on the brink of deranged in style and ominous riffing alongside rhythmical drum work, ebbing and building with complete unpredictability. 

What a superb way to close an album, guaranteed to make you want to listen all over again, and you will discover, with each listen, aspects you missed in this complex meld that you didn’t notice last time around.

Ontological Mysterium is an album that is ever-revealing.  

Guitarist/vocalist Matt Knox and bassist Alex Kulick finished much of the songwriting for Ontological Mysteriumis in 2019. Its recording was delayed by the 2020 global pandemic and various life events.

Horrendous eventually finished recording in early 2022, mixing and mastering at the end of that year at Subterranean Watchtower Studios in Virginia, based within the home of guitarist/vocalist Damian Herring.

Ontological Mysterium is a wonderful and astoundingly good release. I highly recommend giving it multiple thorough listens, so whilst you are pondering that, I’ve clearly got a couple of back catalogue albums to check out.

Sleeve Notes

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