Friday, April 8, 2016
Howls of Ebb - Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows (2016)
Couple of details I noticed up front: the bass performance here is quite a lot better than on either of the earlier releases, with lots of frenetic grooves and lines that hold their own against the dissonance of the guitar rhythms and the nihilistic guttural vocal. Also, the whole record just feels brighter and more welcome upon the ears, not for lack of trying to grind your mind, but simply by virtue of the production. Far more rhythms and tempos are also present across these tunes than these seven tunes, but they retain Howls' careful balance of overwhelming darkness with just a slight semblance of humor; the bridge of "Cabals of Molder" is a prime example of this, with its lurching, burlesque chugs adorned in all manner of guitar wailing and growls. Excellent music all around, and truly fucking atmospheric and unusual; but it's also self-aware enough to provide 'fun' amidst all the torture and gloom, of which there is a considerable amount. The tracks are also kept a lot shorter than the figurehead for the prior EP, but still manage high levels of internal variety and unpredictability.
No experiment really goes awry. Even the closer, "The Apocryphalic Wick", which begins as this gradual ambient ascent into a spastic nightmare, and features some excellent vocal echo rhythms near the close, feels like a crowning, deliberate achievement. The disheveled riffing is always satisfying, never too 'out there' for its own good, and to contrast this, the lead guitars (also an improvement), despite their elasticity, feel as if they're the most traditional and grounded part of the songwriting. The lyrics are beyond excellent. At the risk of annoying half my friends and having the Man Himself awaken from his grave and slap me upside the head with a tentacle, Howls of Ebb also feels more positively 'Lovecraftian' than almost any other extreme metal act to wear that banner. For the obscure mythology it invokes in its use of language, titles, characters, antiquities. For the nervousness which pervades the songwriting. It does seem like you've come across some priceless, rare tome of invocations of stories that were meant to be hidden from prying eyes, lest all of Man's sanity come undone at a touch of prose. Bury this deep in the stacks at Miskatonic when you finish listening.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (fetid foul upon sullied jowls)