Having spent the initial part of the year indulging in the bountiful releases that have sprung forth from the stoner scene, even the process of moving house was comparatively relaxed and the effect on my mental health was quite profound. But just like the instinct that makes David Lynch peel back the dark layers of the American Dream and kids pull the wings off flies, lately, I have felt the urge to listen to something full of explosive anger and unrepentant brutality.
Seemingly the stars aligned to bring me Iconoclast, the third album by intense, heavyweight progressive Swiss post-metal band Herod.
Not to be confused with the American metalcore act of the same name, the band and brainchild of guitarist Pierre Carroz debuted their They Were None release in 2014 and went from strength to strength as they replaced the departing original singer David Glassey with vocalist and guitarist Mike Pilat for their follow up album Sombre Dessein in 2019.
Having built on the influences of late ‘90s Meshuggah, early Dillinger Escape Plan and fellow Scandinavian hardcore-flavoured luminaries Cult Of Luna, the quartet have sought to combine the progressive scope of expansive soundscapes and the jackhammer brutality of righteous sonic battering.
Iconoclast is no knuckle-dragging beatdown however and the press release surrounding Herod’s latest assault comes littered with references to Kafka, Hans Zimmer, Jackson Pollock and an exploration of the definition of the title itself with Carroz opining that ‘today it signifies the aggression towards the rule; a political, social and liberating act.’
These lofty ambitions thankfully never veer into over-indulgent territories and the eight tracks that make top the fifty-one-minute running time are taut and muscular affairs that bristle with power and atmosphere.
The Icon opens proceedings with a deep grinding clank, like some malevolent machine revving up its engine before exploding into life with furious syncopated drums and distorted vocals low in the mix like a newly formed demon finding voice. Part industrial, part djent-based vertigo, the down-tuned throb of the guitars set off at a pace before Pilat opens up his roaring feral snarl.
Whilst it has immediate similarities to Meshuggah, the band has more tricks up their sleeves and the crushing pace gives way to frequently changing grooves and variations; drummer Fabian Vodoz handles the transitions with lightning-fast fills and technique switches. By the time the band drop into a woozy, more melodic end to the track, the effect is no less unsettling as the vocal harmonies trade blows with the savage barking.
Named after the icon Banksy image, The Girl With A Balloon starts tentatively with a huge ringing sludge passage, slow and deliberate, the marching pace offset with guitar stabs and mournful multi-layered voice intonations before the band twist the knife and drag you into the impassioned howls.
an absolute powerhouse of a modern metal album that seeks to challenge and excite the listener in equal measure…
Slow and sombre, this is post-metal at its most unsettling, more akin to the crawl of Will Haven than the searching of Cult Of Luna, Herod blend the lilting, floating voices with the hopeful despair, creating a rich tapestry of swirling atmosphere.
The Ode To introduces the considerable talents of Les Mysterès des Voix Bulgares (The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal) choir to overlay the twisted mechanised pulse with an otherworldly and brooding soundtrack that is more like a film score in its epic scope. The soaring polyphonic acrobatics of the singers juxtapose with the deep apocalyptic feel. At once soothing, alien and unsettling it is a unique piece that sees the band striving to position themselves at the forefront of cutting-edge metal music.
After the complexity of the previous track, the band could be forgiven for a more straightforward offering but The Edifice looks to continue the feel created by the choir, but also returns to the full intensity wrought with screams that take an even more intense blackened edge that cranks up the tension and hit like a bad day on the San Andreas fault line. Complete with ominous spoken word and neck-snapping, pounding, breakdowns as well as a guest appearance from Cryptopsy vocalist Matt McGachy, Herod throw ideas and directional shifts faster than a boxer coming out of the corner jabbing, ducking and weaving.
Preview track The Becoming is pure, unrepentant violence. Fast-paced and anvil-heavy, it reels, screaming and crashing like an incoming storm smashing into wooden buildings. It is Godzilla levelling downtown Tokyo with the huge rallying cry of ‘Die as a Roman!’. The shortest track at this point on Iconoclast, any notion of pretension is dispatched with, and they tap into the power that has seen them holding their own supporting the likes of Carcass and Obituary.
The Intergloom finally offers the listener some respite from the intensity. No less heavy a track as the smouldering moody instrumental restrains the band in a downbeat moment of isolation before the lurching scythe of The Obsolete breaks the spell and once again brings back remorseless drum tattoos, angular riffs and howling growls.
Final track, The Prophecy, is something of a treat for fans of the Pelagic Records endorsed brand of post-metal. Those in the know will have spotted that Mike Pilat was formerly one of the voices behind The Ocean’s third album Precambrian and here he is joined by his friend and replacement Loïc Rosetti, capturing a unique collaboration of that band’s past and present in their most complex and longest offering.
Rosetti’s striking tone sets the scene against the shuffling drums while weaving the lyrical set-up before the epic build succumbs to the raw, scathing edge that has dominated most of Iconoclast to create high drama and rival Cult of Luna and The Ocean in the grandiose storytelling. As a fan of all three bands, it is quite breathtaking.
If you are looking for monstrously heavy with a brain, then Herod’s latest offering is for you; Iconoclast is an absolute powerhouse of a modern metal album that seeks to challenge and excite the listener in equal measure.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden