THE FULL MOON IS RISING
Death metal never really died. Though the golden era lasted from 1983 – 1996, bands continued to play the genre and amidst bands like Immolation who kept churned out a string of egregious releases and while bands like! T.O.O.H.!, Repugnant, Funebrarum, Runemagick, Stargazer and Azarath produced death metal gems to keep the flame of the death metal torch alive, the scene wasn't very good. However, in 2008, when Razorback Records spewed forth releases from Decrepitaph, Hooded Menace, Acid Witch and Crypticus to name a few in all its 80’s horror/slasher gore soaked glory, it in the process sent such shock-waves within the death metal underground that it revived the genre as a whole and the quality of death metal has flourished cogently ever since.
Enter Howling. A mere look at the logo with its worms, monstrous claws, nests of skulls and oozing muck, all draped in an eerie yellow glow and you know where this band comes from. The album cover, which depicts a women being torn apart by a couple of ghastly werewolves in the midst of some woods, is drawn by the amazing slasher design artist Justin Osbourn only reiterates the bands thematic proclivity. Screaming classic Razorback in its appearance, the band boasts of Vanessa Nocera on vocals, who has gained quite some popularity in the metal scene because of being signed onto Razorback Records, and for well, being a female. Her vocals alternate between deeply throaty and gargling screams, and can be seen as a cross between Carcass’ Jeff Walker and Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow, Tony P on guitars and Elektrokutioner on drums, who for his tireless love for the 80’s and endless bands like Father Befouled, Beyond Hell and Encoffination has gained quite the cult underground following.
Lasting 38 minutes and spanning 10 tracks, the album unsurprisingly starts off with the howl of a wolf, as the band pays its tributes to cult horror movie classics like The Beast Within, Mountaintop Motel Massacre, and American Gothic. Expect no down tuned goodness or goregrind frenzy, the band in question plays straightforward death metal. Though the roots of the band are firmly rooted in the death metal spectrum influences from the early thrash scene and Carcass are also heard. Another thing that is atypical of the release are the rather long melodic solos in almost each track that are reminiscent of Heartwork era Carcass. In all the blood soaked carnage, the trio show some respectable song writing skills on tracks like ‘As Man Becomes Lycanthrope’ and ‘Six Souls for the Witching Hour’ with its numerous tempo changes and well placed , well constructed, long melodic solos . Nothing overly technical and complex, the band follow the rather underused formula of keeping things simple and effective with catchy riffs and melodic hooks on tracks like ‘Savage Psychosis’. Though the band is usually mid tempo, the band often crosses the territory in face pummeling speeds with an absolute rager of a track in ‘Demented Debauchery’ which along with ‘Six Souls for the Witching Hour’ has riffs that are reminiscent of Arghoslent’s ‘Hornets of the Pogrom’. As the band slowly builds up to ‘Traumatic Transmutations’, my favorite track here with its early Metallica influenced intro, mid-paced tempo and infectiously catchy riffs, you have to appreciate the bands tenacity and passion.
Though Howling desperately try to keep things fresh and unpredictable with the bass intros and a riff that would be better suited on a stoner album in ‘A Night in the Crypt’ they start losing all momentum on around the fifth track, rapidly inundated in the murky quicksand atmosphere the band had managed to so masterfully and profoundly contrive with its effective song writing and esoteric pacing. It is around here that the band permeates an aura of trying too hard, with failed results and falling flat on its face. As smoothly as the earlier tempo changes and transitions were, as forced and abrasive are the textural changes are now. Vanessa alternates too many times, too fast between her shrieks and growls and in the process absolves the band of all its liquidity thus making a relative short release also trudge along. The band, especially Vanessa displays a knack for trying too hard to prove a point and instead of just taking the back seat and giving the guitars their breathing space, often indulges in the overboard spectrum, all the while taking center stage, growling and screaming when there be no need for such frippery, and drowning out the rest of the band, which is quite a shame, since, in pure Razorback fashion, the star of the show is once again the guitarwork masterfully done by Tony P, which often erupts into carving a gore soaked path of its own , though never does too much, and basks in an aura that screams of how well the final impact of each break in tempo and each towering solo or each sharp choppy riff was thought of. Though the band shows shades of gearing up for a final hurrah on the final track ‘When the Hills Ran Red’ it slowly decimates into an overly long, disappointing affair as well.
Such an amateurish performance is not acceptable by any standards especially when one has seasoned veterans in the band and when one has been able to create a strong first half. As refreshing as it was to see Razorback trying something new in its overplayed ‘80’s horror death metal’ card with the inclusion of melodic hooks and solos which are easily the bands strong point, it is as disappoint and heart wrenching to see a potentially good album being thrown down the drain.
SCORE - 50/100