Howl are an extreme metal quartet from Providence, Rhode Island. The band formed in 2006, so they are fairly ‘new’ or ‘young’. Howl signed with Relapse Records in 2009, releasing their first full-length effort, Full of Hell, in 2010. Their second album, Bloodlines, is slated for release by Relapse Records in the USA.
The album vaguely brings to mind Six Feet Under‘s first release, in that some of the tempos and tones are similar. A good portion of the album is not hyperspeed ‘blastaway’. The sonic variety comes in part from some lineup changes the band endured in 2011. Bloodlines is the first release to feature the revamped lineup. The record has a very distorted guitar sound, and a bit ‘quieter’ production then some. It gives it a very aggressive, mean ‘buzzsaw’ effect, but for those of you who want their death metal as crisp as digital virgin linen, this album might be a little ‘hissy’ for you. With a band name like Howl, it would be great to hear some good howling vocals, and this band delivers! Listen for them about 7/8 the way through “Attrition”, the album’s opener. They’re also prominent on “Your Hell Begins”. Many of the vocal lines are fairly clear (for death metal), so you stand a good chance at being able to understand the message behind each song, if you listen pretty closely.
The bulk of the album’s tunes explore both a faster and a much slower side, evoking both aggression or a more somber mood in the same song. For extreme metal, this is a great variety to offer the listener. Drums are solid and well-performed. Many tunes have nice double-bass footwork. The drum sound is a little muffled on this album, so some of it’s a little difficult to appreciate at first. Give it a thorough listen and you’ll really enjoy some of the nuances. Further along that ‘variety’ track, in the guitar department, songs are written to include a variety of effects to go along with all of this buzzsaw heaviness. They’ve got just the right touch with guitars being ‘played to the song’, not overplayed and certainly not underplayed. The use of a bit of melody brings in what almost sounds like a European touch to some of these otherwise straight-for-the-throat death metal tunes. What’s neat about it is that the guitar leads tend to cut through the mix really nicely, so the leads sound very forward compared to the rest of the instruments. There are plenty of little guitar flourishes against a bleak, mean backdrop. The band puts the effort in to songwriting, and that’s refreshing. The vocals aren’t all one style. There are spots where you hear spoken-sung passages – check out “Down So Low” or “Embrace Your Nerve”.
The album art is great if you like that ‘animated poster’ pop-art style. It’s nicely drawn line art, high-contrast, very vivid, and full of impact. A reduced color scheme only adds to it’s visual impact: you won’t miss this one. As an added nice touch, the band’s logo is legible in a fairly ‘retro’ typographic style. (Reading those illegible spiderwebby metal logos gets old…) Two vultures, a snarly black coyote, a skeleton and a woman with 3 eyes float down a river of blood… it’s an instant classic.
Criticism: The bass guitar is buried, remaining almost unheard until the “The Mouth Of Madness”, the ninth tune out of ten. A lot of modern extreme metal is built on a certain ‘heaviness’, where in the live-concert setting, sounds a lot like bass guitar and bass drum. To bury half of your heaviest component seems to be a disservice to the album listener. (Although it would be a great surprise to see them live and hear these songs sound even heavier!)
If you’re looking for fairly classic, fairly varied, mid-tempo metal, this release will definitely add something to your arsenal. Described elsewhere as everything from ‘doom’ to ‘stoner’ metal, to my ears this sounds much more reminiscent of maybe mid-1990’s death metal where the music hadn’t yet become a parody of itself: it was still fairly slow, fairly raw, and very fresh. I’m going to go with the flow here and keep them in the doom category – they do have plenty of doomy passages on Bloodlines – even though I think more of bands like Trouble or Black Sabbath when I think of doom. It’s a solid album with just the right amount of bite, definitely worth repeat listens.
One Last Nail
Down So Low
Your Hell Begins
With A Blade
The Mouth Of Madness
Embrace Your Nerve