(Andy Synn reviews the self-titled debut album by the Missouri black metal band Howling, which was released on July 21st.)
For whatever reason I’ve been covering (and listening to) a lot of Death Metal and Death-Metal-adjacent stuff this month, and almost completely neglecting the more “blackened” side of things.
But then, at the start of this week, and seemingly out of nowhere (but actually out of Wildwood, Missouri) I came across Howling and their impressively savage, devilishly dark debut album, and instantly felt compelled to share it with all of you.
Situating their sound firmly on the heavier, riffier end of the Black Metal spectrum – think Dark Funeral, Inquisition, Ruins, etc, with maybe a touch of the deathlier style favoured by A Hill To Die Upon and their ilk – the Missouri duo (vocalist Tzel and instrumentalist Fimbulvetr) may not be out to break the mould with their first, self-titled, record, but they’ve definitely managed to lock down the formula, without being formulaic, that might just have given birth to a future classic.
It definitely helps that the two-piece have crafted themselves a frankly rather massive sound for their debut, particularly in the riff department, where the guitar tone is resolutely titanic from the very first to the very last note.
Heck, even the programmed drums have a lot more sonic depth and nuance than you’d usually expect from a wholly artificial source, and it’s clear that Tzel and Fimbulvetr have put a lot of effort into making this particular part of their sound into an asset, rather than a liability.
As a matter of fact the drums have such a natural and organic feel to them – powerful and precise, yet not uncannily, unerringly perfect – that it’s very easy to forget you’re not listening to a particularly talented human drummer during rampaging, percussively-propelled riff-monsters like “Under the Black Wings” and “The Torchbearer”, and I do wonder if you’d even have noticed if I hadn’t pointed it out.
Still, as good as the drums and (surprisingly clear, yet viscerally caustic) vocals are, it’s the guitars who are the real stars of the show, from the virulent, hypnotic hooks of “Ashes” (where the subtle keyboard embellishments intertwine with the moody, morbid riffs to give the whole thing a sense of haunting melodic menace), and the writhing, winding distortion underpinning “Charred Bones Have Built These Temples”, through to the lurching Blackened Death riffage of “Exit Wounds” (which also incorporates an extra large dose of sinister, Satyricon-esque groove into the mix).
Oh sure, as I said at the start, there’s nothing new here to shift the paradigm or rock the Black Metal world on its axis, but I challenge anyone to listen to something as demonically doomy and coldly compelling as humongous closer “Solis Occasum” and not come away with an evil, Machiavellian grin (or grimace) plastered across their face.
So if you’re looking for some hefty, riff-focussed, and shamelessly unpretentious Black Metal to give your neck (and your more nihilistic impulses) some serious exercise, then grab a hold of this one asap.