Herod, also known as Herod the Great and Herod I, was a Roman client King of Judea. Or was it the Judean People’s Front? It’s also the name of your new favourite Swiss Progressive Sludge Metal outfit. Now that many qualifiers may seem like damning with faint praise at first, much like a cinematic release being the box office number one but only on a Tuesday in southern Nicaragua, however, the plaudits are more than deserved. Let’s dive into latest release, Sombre Dessein (Pelagic Records), to really get our heads around Herod’s grandeur.
Structurally, it is an album that shares much in common with post-Metal. Despite the track length varying from four to ten minutes, every song has the ebb and flow of musical and lyrical dynamism that one would expect from luminaries of the post-Metal world. Each crescendo is earned through well-constructed builds, peaks and valleys of drab majesty and punishing, Djenting guitars. The onomatopoeic sub-genre, Djent, finds itself most prevalent in the ending of ‘Silent Truth’, which smashes along like a Meshuggah song such as ‘Demiurge’.
Musically the album is dexterous and ambitious, as any Progressive band is wont to be. Opening song, ‘Fork Tongue’, builds around a hulking groove into an all-out aural onslaught, with guitars that are at one moment wiry and spindly, and at others full-bodied and richly textured. It’s a lumbering leviathan of a song that has all the characteristics of a quintessential Post-Sludge anthem. Michael Pilat’s vocals serve the songs beautifully, able to go from growled declarations of “annihilation” to softly spoken nothings on the aforementioned ‘Silent Truth’. His bilingual lyricism adds a layer of intrigue to proceedings and keeps the album intellectually stimulating as well as headbangable. Which is definitely a word.
‘Reckoning’ sees the ever addictive pick-scrape utilised to glorious effect. The guitar trick associated with Gojira, sets the listeners teeth on edge and will lead to plenty of jaws clenched in reverie. It’s only through a masterful production job that this affectation comes about, and the album is gorgeously put together. Every note is played with crystalline precision and the various layers of squalling noise and bending guitars don’t overwhelm one another.
It’s clear that a love of all things auditory was at the forefront of this record’s construction, so it makes sense that its recording and mixing was done by noted Swiss audiophile, Julien Fehlman. It is unsurprising to find that this accomplished album was additionally mastered by Cult of Luna’s own Magnus Lindberg, someone who truly understands the virtues of an album sounding stunning alongside proficient instrumentation.
Sombre Dessein is an album of staggering riffs and intricate polyrhythms that never sacrifice groove for overt technicality. The restraint on display by these more than adept musicians is something many prospective players should strive for. There’s no ego motivating any performances, purely a will and need to serve the songs. It is an album for people who like their music heavy and above all, interesting. As the wind rushes around you for the final moments of album closer, ‘There Will Be Gods’, there’s an instant need to repeat the whole affair. It is an addictive, labyrinthine monster that will take months for the listener to fully dissect. It is an absolute wonder.
9 / 10