One of my favorite things about being a metal fan in 2013 is that with the internet, you can literally find hundreds, if not thousands, of bands you’ve never heard of every year. The rise of Bandcamp and embedded tracks means you can hear bands at a clip like never before, which is fantastic. Of course the flip side of that is sometimes bands slip through the cracks, and when you finally hear them, you curse your stupidity and wish to Dio that you’d found them sooner. That sums up my experience with Howl over the past month, because evidently they had a self-titled EP in 2008 and a debut full-length titled Full of Hell in 2010, even though I didn’t learn of their existence – not to mention their impending album Bloodlines – until a few weeks ago.
Thankfully, my ignorance cannot hold a candle to the mighty Islander, who’s eager anticipation for Bloodlines was my introduction to the band via his posting of a few songs, along with that magnificent cover art… seriously, look at that gorgeous artwork and tell me with a straight face that it doesn’t make you just a teensy bit wet/stiff in the groin. It’s ok, we’re all friends here, dealing with the same uncomfortable arousal. I mean… just goddamn that’s cool cover art. A naked chick, a baby, some skeletons, birds of prey, and feral dogs of some sort all chilling out together in the lobby of the Overlook Hotel. Consider the book judged; I’m all in on hearing this album.
The good news is that Bloodlines delivers on the all the promises the cover makes. It’s one of those albums that make you hate the idea of categorizing music by genre, because it’s all over the place. There are some doomy elements that pervade the whole thing, but unlike a lot of doom albums, the band doesn’t wallow in the gloom and misery; instead they crush it under their boot heels and bring the noise. And by noise, I mean riffs; Bloodlines is an album of killer riffs, spanning all makes and models of riffage: there are riffs that wouldn’t feel out of place on New American Gospel-era Lamb of God, southern sludge rock riffs a la Red Fang or early Mastodon, and even a riff Soundgarden may have written once upon a time. This guitar awesomeness is a little less surprising (but no less awesome) when you learn it’s a three-pronged attack from guitarists Jonathan Hall, Josh Durocher-Jones, and Vincent Hausman (who also does vocals). I actually think it’s cooler that there are three guitarists, because it gives me faith that Howl can pull off all these riffs live.
Obviously great riffs alone do not make a great album, and Bloodlines is no exception. What really stands out on the album is the play between emotions over the course of the album. Songs feel simultaneously aggressive and fun; it’s an album equally at home in your headphones at the gym and through speakers at a barbecue with friends. It’s a hard dichotomy to pull off while still sounding sincere, but Howl makes it look easy. Hausman’s growls can be a little monochromatic at times, but with the swirling mass of riffs anchored by Jesse Riley’s crunching bass and Timmy St. Amour’s excellent drumming time changes creating an atmosphere of bludgeoningly intense partying around them, the album as a whole doesn’t suffer.
I admit to being a bit Taylor Swift-like when it comes to albums: I hear them, fall in love, move to quick, and then find myself bitter and alone, looking for another love. So it’s possible that my love for Bloodlines is a result of listening to it a dozen times in three days. But I don’t suspect that’s the case. Bloodlines is an intense, riff-heavy album that feels tailor-made for the impending summer, just waiting to be blasted out of open car windows. I’ll have to come back to it in a few months before I declare it a masterpiece, but it has certainly ensured that anytime I see a mention of Howl online, I’m going to check it out. I recommend giving this one a spin.