Review Summary: A completely demented but charming ensemble of old-school horror in musical form.
Words seldom do justice when describing the muck that permeates Howls of Ebb’s debut full length Vigils of The Third Eye
. Long-winded analogies and various descriptors clad with filth, grime, rotting corpses and rats eating said corpses all but fail, as one attempts to construct a mental image akin to the depravity spewed forth by this Californian trio. It feels like an irksome obligation to reel off a few band names for comparison, however cliché that may be. There are obvious musical parallels to Gorguts and Demilich, as well as more recent acts like Baring Teeth and Flourishing, though the overall presentation isn’t too dissimilar to something Antediluvian or even Mitochondrion would muster. Yet this process of arbitrary namedropping is still irritatingly vague, which highlights just how beyond description this album is. Howls of Ebb haven’t reinvented blackened death metal – at least not yet – but you would be hard pressed to say they haven’t significantly altered preconceptions of what can be done within the genre.
Vigils of The Third Eye
sounds like a genuinely alien take on an already demented art form. Now this might be an approbation you’ve heard before, in fact you could wager it’s an innate quality of the genre, but Howls of Ebb amplify these extremes tenfold. Off kilter, almost tribal drumming staggers about in a strange yet harmonious embrace with the rest of the decadent rhythm section. Meanwhile, shape-shifting, atonal leads creep, slither or lurch depending upon their seemingly random embodiment. Patrick Brown’s vocals aren’t the usual, overtly-aggressive growls characteristic of modern death metal, but a sort of Lovecraftian, guttural, yet poetic narration. The lyrics range from virulent tales of torment and suffering, to wildly abstract elegies of almost indiscernible concept. Each of these individually discordant fragments are woven together and bound concretely by a reverberant, organic and dynamic production job, so as nothing sounds particularly out of place, but the element of insanity is still well preserved.
Howls of Ebb seem very inclined to utilise their manic concoction to full effect, experimenting where appropriate and even improvising during some of the longer tracks. Given the sheer oddness of some of the material, opportunities for such antics are highly abundant, without the running the risk of coming across as incongruent or self-indulgent. As a result, the diversity in some of these tracks with regards to timbres and interplay, let alone structure, is very impressive. Longer numbers such as “Martian Terrors, Limbonic Steps”, “Of Heel, Cyst and Lung” and the eleven-minute closer “The Devious Nectar – Purgatory Reprisal” feature extended passages of atonal, ringing leads, creeping bass lines and nuanced, textural chemistry. Moods are chilling and disconcerting, as if you’re being watched, the horror of which is compounded when the band ups the ante and your surroundings, seemingly sentient and hostile, proceed to twist and collapse before you. The whole ordeal is unnerving, but also hypnotic and addictive, indulging in the morbid curiosity that each and every one of us possesses, the slightly paradoxical desire to be frightened.
With Vigils of The Third Eye
, Howls of Ebb have created an aural equivalent of an Early-Twentieth Century horror novel – a quirky, but superbly crafted collection of tales, free of shock horror gimmicks and the extraneous depiction of gore. The album’s inherent aggression seems to be a mere side effect of genre-specific truisms, as opposed to any conscious effort to be as fast or heavy as possible. The magic is in the details, its ability to tap into our innate fear of the unknown, eloquently constructing shady, dank scenarios and prudently contorting them into uncanny monstrosities.