I love riffs.
That’s pretty much why I play and/or listen to metal: RIFFS.
In 2013, no young band knows riffs like Howl– no album like Bloodlines.
Having written about Providence, Rhode Island’s (home of my old Zen school headquarters*) groovy doomed sludge-meisters Howl several times before, I was psychotically psyched, or sycoti-psyched©, as I like to copyright it, to get an advance copy of this, my no. 1 most anticipated album of 2013 (Howl’s full-length debut, Full of Hell, was my no. 3 of 2010 and, in retrospect, should’ve been tied for number one).
In the few years since Full of Hell, Howl tuned their guitars down another half-step (to C), found a sound much warmer overall than before, made the drums bassier, and made the vocals more comprehensible and raspy –a bit like Nachtmystium‘s Blake Judd– while still sounding like Howl, they don’t sound particularly like the Howl of Full of Hell.
Much like FoH, though, this is much more overtly aggressive, both in lyrics and tempo shifts, than most doom/ sludge– the Blake Judd thing adding to this somewhat last time, but definitely more so now….
Overall, mix/mastering-wise, Bloodlines evolved like Metallica’s late 80s discography, though this chronologically backwards: where Full of Hell was very raw, trebly-sounding, and overall bone-dry, not unlike …And Justice for All (which I think actually worked for Howl), Bloodlines is warmer, with noticeably more bass, and with a much thicker, fuller, “studio” sound– much like Master of Puppets.
(This Metallica comparison isn’t entirely undeserved, either– Howl took a few big chances here, but not too many– thus preserving/ establishing their signature sound –they didn’t Cold Lake this or anything– and evolving– and this, well. This is how you want your favorite bands to evolve.)
At around 1:30 into “Midnight Eyes” you get a beautiful, disjointed riff; just as the verse sounds like it’s going to full-on D beat, it then disrupts that thought/rhythm every few seconds; at 2:30 there’s a nice single-note riff that later adds a harmony, sounding like Iron Maiden for a second, at then at 3:30, when the bass comes back in from a silence, you realize you can actually clearly hear that bass (without simultaneously making the guitars sound tinny).
Bloodlines just sounds good, man– who mixed this? Hang on, must check…. says Chris “Zeuss” Harris… this dude (and Howl, who also co-produced) knows his stuff, like a slightly warmer Sanford Parker. Each part somehow managing to stand out.
There’s the same nonsensical-yet-sinister lyrics and titles. “Midnight Eyes,” with its slow, undulating refrain of “kill, kill, kill the light…” nicely creepy.
“Demonic” sounds something like the devil & the sea covering Nachtmystium, a bit of Disfear/Discharge creeping in just long enough to tease you (Howl are great at stopping a good riff before you’re done with it– only one track here is over five minutes, and that one, “With a Blade,” probably the weakest track on here, and still quite good, is barely over 5 minutes)… at 2:00, holy fuck… when the bass comes back in, and this over a lovely slinky riff– Goddamn it’s cool. That made me mad I don’t play bass– it was fucking badass.
They definitely trimmed what little fat there was on Full of Hell— Bloodlines is barely 40 minutes long, and invites immediate second listens. Bloodlines captures a young band starting to realize what they can do– and having the confidence to follow through with it. More bands should seek to refine their sound like this between releases.
Bloodlines is actually starting to piss me off, because I wanna wrap this review up, and I keep remembering parts I have to write about.
“One Last Nail” has a vaguely-creepy NWOBHM riff (like the end of Full of Hell‘s “Heavenless,”) and man… there’s that awesome, clean, detuned, fat-strings-having bass again… badass…! And there at 1:31 after another brief fast section, we slow waaaay down with an “Ugh!” from singer/guitarist Vincent Hausman, who is actually enunciating enough that you can often appreciate the quietly-disturbing turn to his lyrics [“One last nail, my coffin’s sailed…?”]
“Down So Low” is actually a bit catchy, and somewhat more atmospheric than the previous tunes, but there’s a very clear melody line through it…. “You’ve never prayed like this before….”
“Your Hell Begins” starts with blastbeat/hyper-tempo drums, of all things, while “With a Blade” has another mournful-groove/ doomy breakdown riff at about 3:16, and then about 3:54, with another “Huh!” from one Vincent Hausman, which sorta-breaksdown again, into an even simpler “Domination”-ish riff.
“Of War” spits out yet another awesome riff at around 2:00, and “The Mouth of Madness” is Pantera if they were from Norway in the early 80s and loved Bathory. Fucking wow.
Closer, “Embrace Your Nerve” begins with an awesome downslide into the main riff, one awesome in and of itself, and the chorus sounds like a slowed-down version of every other NWOBHM record (yes, record) in 1982….
I think the overall crux of this review is– Howl spit them some mad riff, yo.
I don’t know how I can recommend them more highly than this.
I keep replaying little sections here and there just to re-experience them; this is fun stuff.
The last time I kept saying “Holy shit, that was cool,” this often (especially on first listen) was listening to Revocation’s Chaos of Forms almost two years ago. There have been many good albums since then of course, but none keep making me go, “Fucking sweeeet, brah, mein broheim…” like this. Anything whose appreciation makes me sound like a frat guy is definitely worth your time.
And Holy shit: every listen just gets Goddamned/Satanapproved better.
Bloodlines, sonically/master speaking, fucking vibrates— Howl love to stay on their lowest note, and you can practically smell the shit they’re forcing out of you… brown notes for everyone!
That’s my unofficial subtitle of Bloodlines: Brown Notes for Everyone.
This is one of the longest articles about a single album I’ve written: it doesn’t matter if you read it (that’s why I highlighted certain parts, so you could skim)– just get the damn thing already.
There’s two more albums coming out soon this year, Ghost’s Infestissumum, and Orchid’s The Mouths of Madness (30 years after first exposure and Lovecraft references still rope me in); if those don’t rock me like this, or something doesn’t really surprise me later on in the year, this is the best of 2013.
I don’t care it’s fucking February.
Pre-order here or here.
[Bloodlines is released via Relapse records on 4/30/13.]
*What? I can like metal and still be serene, motherfucker.