Pelagic Records – 5th May 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Biblical’ has become a byword for something tremendously large, epic, or of intense proportion, but also brutal and torturous and bloody. King Herod the Great is perhaps best known, not for his extensive construction projects, but for ordering the slaughter of the innocents: fearful of the threat of a ‘new king’, the story goes (although only according to Matthew) that he ordered the execution of all male children who are two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The legend has inspired some pretty horrific depictions in art, from Duccio Di Buoninsegna to Reubens, and in context, Herod is an outstanding name for a metal band. And Herod live up to their name, too.

Iconoclast is a clear step on from Sombre Dessein, released in 2019. Back then, they were touting a ‘progressive sludge’ sound: in contrast, their lasts bio sees the band describe themselves as ‘atmospheric groove metal’.

“I’m obsessed with late 90’s Meshuggah, early Dillinger Escape Plan, and early Cult of Luna,” explains guitarist Pierre Carroz deftly about the influences behind the sound of his brainchild.

But for all the stylistic progression, thematically, they’re still squarely focused on the societal scourge of religion, as the title suggests, and it kicks off hard and heavy with ‘The Icon’, a barrelling, churning grind of dirty guitars which at the most unexpected moments switch tempo and gets tetchy and technical. Then, just shy of five minutes on, there are some clean, drawling vocals reminiscent of Alice in Chains – but disembodied, bent, it’s like Layne Staley is calling from the other side, and within just six minutes and a single track, Herod have slammed down a whole album’s worth of ideas.

The thematic thread is also apparent in the song titles, all of we which are ‘The…’ something. If imbues the album with a sense of being a book with the songs as chapters with corresponding titles which guide the way through a discursive exploration. Only, that discussion is a blast-out, a levelling by force.

There are eight tracks all, most well over the six-minute mark, and they blend sedated melodies with expansive guitar, raging, raw-throated vocals and thunderous percussion. There are slow, sedate passages, as on ‘The Girl with a Balloon’ which invite comparison to the earthy, low-tempo grit of Neurosis, and they really bring the weight when the riffs crash in. As much as the monolithic power chords dominate, the earth-shattering bass is absolutely essential to the sound.

‘The Ode to’ marks a significant shift in form, a resonantly vocal chorus scaling the heights and looking upwards to the heavens, a works of majesty that speaks to the ethereal and the eternal – but over the duration, the guitars harden and drive until the mid-point achieves a punishing plateau of distortion before returning to a mesmerising sway brimming with Eastern promise – before once again a landslide of guitars bring absolute devastation.

Herod get devastation, and get atmospheric, too. They get the merit of a melody, but tend to really delay gratification in favour of punishment before reward. Mostly, though, they get the power of punishment, and they mete out plenty of that over the course of fifty minutes. It’s a big fifty minutes, and it’s as heavy as fuck.

The nine-minute finale is heavily immersed in progressive sounds and styling, but when the crushing riffs blast in, all is well.

For all of the moments of levity and mindfulness, Iconoclast is everything fans – myself included – would want from Herod – snarling, churning riffs and roaring vocals, which combine to absolutely devastating effect. They’ve certainly evolved, but they’ve not lost sight of their sound, and have simply expanded it.

The resultant Iconoclast is an absolute monster.



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