We like five things about the new Relapse Records release from a Rhode Island band called Howl: the album cover, the name of the album, the name of the band, the lyrics. Oh yeah, we like the music, too.
First things first — the album cover.
Now, we can hear some of you saying, who gives a shit about the cover art if the music sucks? Well, you’re entitled to your fucking opinion. But in our fucking opinion, this band could sound like a garbage truck backing up and this album cover would still stand the test of time. Plus, we saw the album cover before we heard the music, so it comes first.
Just gaze upon that sucker at the top of this post. It’s really only half of the full image. To see the full thing in all its hellish glory, you need the CD insert to unfold. Looks like this:
The artwork is by Ryan Begley. He’s done artwork for Pelican, Clouds, Ruiner, Doomriders, and other bands, but we gotta say he’s outdone himself with this one. Skulls, flames, skeletal hand, glowing triangle, and plenty of eyeballs (you can never have too many eyeballs) — all rendered in appropriately hell-hot colors. And it meshes beautifully with one of those other things we like — the album title (Full of Hell). OK, now for the music: It’s devilishly good. (more after the jump . . .)
Slapping genre labels on metal bands is a practice that has its uses. It allows readers to make early decisions about whether the music might be something worth exploring, given their tastes. But the music of some bands mightily resists classification, and Full of Hell is a case in point. The closest we can come is death-doom, reminiscent at times of early Asphyx and the doomier phases of Neurosis. But at times we’re also reminded of the heavier side of Mastodon and the more bludgeoning elements of sludge produced by The Melvins.
The songs on Full of Hell are deceptively simple in their construction. Employing down-tuned, abrasively fuzzed-out bass and guitars, Howl sets up uncomplicated but massively infectious riffs that hammer away relentlessly. As we listened, we noticed interesting shifts in tempo, but reflecting back on the sound as a whole, the dominant impression is one of slow, crushing menace. The mental image that continually reappeared was a flash-forward scene in the first Terminator movie of a hunter-killer tank grinding forward over a mound of human skulls and pulverizing them into powder.
There are no guitar pyrotechnics on Full of Hell, but periodically, clean guitar leads and brief echoing solos emerge from the ultra low-end march of the bass and rhythm guitar. When that happens, the songs briefly transform into things of resonant beauty.
And pyrotechnics are on display — but they come from the drumwork of Timmy St. Amour. As his bandmates plow ahead with their hypnotically grinding riffage, he’s operating in a different gear, with a maelstrom of complex, pounding rhythms, tribal beats, and constantly crashing cymbals.
Vincent Hausman’s vocals? Well, of course, there’s only one word for it: he howls. Blood curdling, mid-range shrieking that takes this nasty, evil-sounding music into a still lower level of Hell — the “cackling cries of goblins in heat” (to borrow from the lyrics of “Gods in Broken Men”).
And speaking of the lyrics, we can’t hear most of them as Hausman makes his vicious delivery within the songs, but we can read them. They’re striking in their furious imagery and, wonder of wonders, they actually rhyme. There are passages that could serve as apt descriptions of this music: “Thunderstorm heads convene/We want it/but we don’t like it clean”; “And may everything dirty win.”
Full of Hell is a granite slab of elemental metal that’s sludgy but furious, rough and raw but morbidly beautiful, trance-inducing but electrifying, pulverizing while soaring. We predict the appeal of this album will last a long time.
Here’s a track for you to test-drive. For info on how to buy the CD, go here.