Review Summary: Howlin’ at the Moon
Howl are a band that is bubbling under the surface, just waiting to boil over to expose a magma-like centre, with blistering heat and a magnitude of force. They’re a band that bring the baseball bats to the bar fights and they’re the band who will cave in your skulls with their guitar tone alone, or so I thought. Their debut ‘Full of Hell’ was primarily a sludge, doom infused record that packed several punches but never really broke free from its chains. Full of Hell demonstrated Howl’s ability to deliver a slow burning experience. With Bloodlines, Howl present a more dynamic, eclectic albeit weakened beast. Their sophomore effort is a culmination of Southern Metal (a la Lamb Of God), restrained Sludge and sprinklings of Doom. Essentially, Bloodlines is a melting pot of Howl’s influences.
Full of Hell wasn't a bad record, nor was it anything special, so surely Howl would have learned from their prior mistakes? The answer is a resounding NO! While they rectified the lack of diversity, they've completely ruined their identity by incorporating their musical influences to the point of overshadowing and usurping the quality of music. Bloodlines is in fact worse than its predecessor. While Bloodlines is full of flashy guitar-work, diverse vocals, and a apparent sonic reinvention; this ‘sound’ is borrowed and should have been executed with musical precision. The façade they portray throughout the album is a dismal attempt at best. It doesn’t work and the music comes across lacklustre. Vocally, Hausman sounds like a more extreme Randy Blythe, couple that with the prominent southern guitar-tone and you've got an impersonation. Bloodlines even features gruff spoken word passages throughout which do neither the band nor the album any favours. The blatant Lamb of God worship is embarrassing, let alone dull. The best part of Bloodlines is the creativity, from the juxtaposition of influences and infrequent ‘howled’ screams, delivering a confident, punishing performance. The lower growls generally dominate the verses, they're throat-y and vary in quality. On the other hand the musicianship is fun and diverse providing a head-banging worthy experience. Triumphant riffing presents, at times, sludge-tastic backbones that fill the airwaves with power. Even the predominant southern flourishes can be enjoyable. Furthermore, chaotic, commanding drumming creates a murky atmosphere, an experience that leaves you wanting more. The drums are the highlight of the record, among the foray of stellar guitar-work, the drums pummel and spasm with character but it isn't enough.
Bloodlines is a half-baked experience, Howl have lost their essence in the process, toning down the sludge and presenting an altogether bland, weak record. Incorporating your influences into the music you play isn’t a crime, but if it's done haphazardly then you’ll get a product that oozes overly-influenced and feels disconnected. Howl has tried to diversify their sound and in doing so they’ve taken one huge step backwards.