The meaning of iconoclasm has evolved from the social belief in the destruction of (specifically coded) religious icons and monuments to the more secular application of someone who challenges institutions due to finding it erroneous. Because of this evolution, the term now has an additional political connotation, bordering on damnatio memoriae, where someone or something becomes excluded or eliminated from the historical record. While this is what ultimately happens at the conclusion of Iconoclast, Herod’s third full-length, it’s the journey of how we get there that I find most appealing. Let’s discuss.
One of the first things that struck me about Iconoclast is how slowly it moves. Given its sludge tendencies, this is expected – one is slowly coming to terms with the choices they must make when committing iconoclasm. However, within the sonic space of each song, the music shifts quickly from elaborate musical passages to heavy feedback that drags, to otherworldly vocals that lament destruction. Layered within those shifts, are incredibly tranquil, atmospheric moments, almost reflective, as if whoever the iconoclast is feels conflicted about what needs to be done. On one hand, the destruction of an icon and its eventual condemnation is an act of defiance against what is perceived to be wrong. However, on the other hand, these icons are/were the foundations of faith, of belief, into something bigger than us. These conflicting thoughts are what colors the melody throughout the first half of Iconoclast, becoming heavier with each song as the album reaches its conclusion. The heaviness is also incredibly punishing, as if you can feel the rhythm vibrating through your teeth. The way Herod becomes extremely technical in playing their compositions is a nice touch, as if daring the listener to see if they can last before accepting their reward with the second half of the album. There is no joy to be found here – destruction is imminent, and you can only count down to its very end.
However, despite its punishing and hopeless nature, Iconoclast is not an album I would describe as hopeless. The music is meant to be heavy and devastating, sweeping everything underneath layers of scourge for religion and contempt for iconolaters, but there is also a slight sense of celebration. Once you get past the funerary dirge of “The Ode to…,” the music loses some of its weight and fully commits to its slight optimism. This is highlighted on “The Becoming,” where the music ups its tempo, sounding closer to the post-metal I am used to: explosive, moving, and urgent. It is still heavy, but its atmospheric tendencies are on full display here, and they continue for the remainder of its runtime. It’s an interesting tonal shift, as if indicating that this is our gold at the end of the rainbow. After the heavy onslaught of sonic punishment, we finally receive our promised reward for committing our choice. We, along with the iconoclast, have committed to damnatio memoriae, thereby transforming ourselves into something we can only define. We receive the ethereal beauty of knowing, the payoff to the onslaught of sweeping destruction in Herod’s wake. There is comfort in destruction, and the closer we accelerate towards it, the faster we can start over.
As a full tangent, I also wanted to make a thematic connection between labelmate Lost in Kiev’s “Prison of Mind” and album closer “The Prophecy.” While part of the connection comes from Loic Rossetti of The Ocean providing vocals for both songs, each song can be seen as part of a whole. “Prison of Mind” can be interpreted as someone who becomes aware that the institutions that hold power are in the wrong, while “The Prophecy” can be seen as the aftermath of these institutions’ destruction, where the iconoclast is finally free to do as they wish. One is the call to arms, and the other is the silence at the end of the mission, with the comfort of knowing that the world has changed. Whether it was a good, justified choice is entirely subjective.
After all, even with all the musical majesty Iconoclast has to offer, nothing will remain at the end, the lone and level sands stretching far into the world.
Iconoclast is available now on Pelagic Records. For information on Herod, visit their official website.