Renowned for boldly going where most bands fear to tread, The Horrors are masters of reinvention who once again upped the ante with their compelling, enigmatically-titled fifth album, V.
The chameleonic Southend-on-Sea popsters initially sprang onto the scene touting a chaotic fusion of 80s gothabilly and 60s garage-rock on their 2007 debut, Strange House. Yet after they changed course dramatically with 2009’s epic, motorik-influenced single ‘Sea Within A Sea’, they’ve continued to wow fans and critics. Their sophomore release, the psychedelia-streaked Primary Colours (produced by Portishead mainstay Geoff Barrow) drew considerable praise, while 2011’s synth-heavy Skying and 2014’s Luminous have ensured that The Horrors’ career remains on an upward trajectory.
The band followed their muse (almost literally) to the end of the earth to work up the songs for V. Frontman Faris Badwan and bassist Rhys Webb decamped to Iceland with a Korg drum machine and some acoustic guitars to write songs in a remote cabin, while guitarist Joshua Third, keyboard wizard Tom Furse and drummer Joseph Spurgeon also composed new tracks individually. Bringing it all back home, the quintet later hooked up with producer Paul Epworth (Paul McCartney, Coldplay, U2) and magic began to happen.
Recalling the V album sessions with fondness, The Horrors were fulsome with praise for their new producer’s enthusiasm, not to mention his spontaneity. “We’d start off with some little motif, usually an electronic loop that seemed appealing, and build stuff up,” said Joshua Third. “It was like two songs a day, we hadn’t worked like that in years. He [Epworth] would keep the whole thing rolling, whereas we’d got to a stage where we’d bunker down and chat about something for ages. But he’s so obsessed with action, it’s refreshing.”
Equal parts light and shade, V, which was released on 22 September 2017, is arguably the darkest, yet conversely the most accessible record The Horrors have unleashed to date. The album introduces itself in dramatic fashion, with glacial, Gary Numan-esque synths framing the churning, industrial pop of ‘Hologram’, while the glitchy electronica ushering in ‘Machine’ morphs into prowling, Stooges-style aggression as the song shifts into high gear. Destined to join ‘Still Life’ and ‘Sea Within A Sea’ as one of The Horrors’ signature songs, meanwhile, V’s centrepiece is surely ‘Weighed Down’: an elegiac, dub-infused anthem which slow-burns its way across an unmissable six and a half minutes.
Elsewhere, however, V parades some of the most unashamedly confident, radio-friendly pop of The Horrors’ career to date. Buoyed up by bubbling sequencers, the recently released ‘Something To Remember Me By’ has already burnt up the airwaves, while the snappy ‘World Below’ and poised, infectious ‘Press Enter To Exit’ exude all the hallmarks of killer hits-in-waiting. Then there’s the album’s dark horse, ‘Gathering’: an eerie, ‘Karma Police’-esque commentary on CCTV-related surveillance culture couched in the most elegant and enticing of melodies.
Released in the wake of an arena tour supporting Depeche Mode, wherein the band proved beyond doubt they’re capable of conquering stadiums on their own, V vigorously enforced the widely-held belief that The Horrors were ready to take on all comers. As the chorus to ‘Hologram’ suggests – they just need to “ride this wave as far as we can”.