Doom metal is a cathartic outlet for depression and loneliness and, yeah, it sounds pretty great under the influence of recreational pharmaceuticals, since the rhythms are generally slow and repetitive enough to separate the individual instruments and sink into the full, echoing effect of their sound. Howl’s 2010 full-length debut Full of Hell was an angry stoner’s paradise, a feast of trudging riffs, plodding beats, serpentine guitars and tumbling drums that appealed equally to fans of Black Sabbath and Mastodon.
Who knows if frontman Vincent Hausman stopped smoking weed or if he’s merely evolved as a songwriter and musician, but Howl’s second album Bloodlines is far more intricate and diverse. Some of that might be because the band hired a second guitarist, Josh Durocher-Jones, who adds counter-melodies and extra heft to Hausman’s leaden chugs (Since recording the album, Hausman has actually focused strictly on vocals and handed his guitar over to new member Jonathan Hall).
Clearly, vocals have become a priority to Hausman. On Bloodlines he expands his parameters, spewing various flavors of venom, including Lamb of God-style roars (“Attrition,” “Demonic”), shouty growls (“Your Hell Begins, “Of War”) and even moody melodic baritone crooning (“One Last Nail,” “Down So Long”).
The abundant musical flourishes are even more impressive. Howl can still stomp and drone, but they’ve added new tricks to their arsenal, including southern power-groove riffs, twin-guitar harmonies and unexpected shifts in rhythm; the tempos range from mid-paced (“Embrace Your Nerve”) to double-time (“Your Hell Begins”). Clearly, Howl worked exhaustively to overhaul their sound (captured expertly by producer Zeuss and they’ve done so without sounding like a completely different band than the one that recorded Full of Hell.
Maybe that has something to do with their overall aesthetic. No matter how much they’ve strayed from their roots, Howl are still filled with animosity and contempt. Just check out the album art, which depicts a naked woman bleeding from her eyes, a spurting heart, a skeleton with a spear, a wolf and ravens, all of them swimming in an ocean of blood. “I will tear limb from limb/this is where your hell begins,” sings Hausman on “Your Hell Begins.” “Drink up the blood you maggot/spit on the open wound,” he rails in “The Mouth of Madness.” Howl’s music may sound a little less bleak and a bit more multifaceted than they did two year ago, but at the core they remain as ugly as ever.