Following their for the main impressive debut album Full Of Hell of 2010, anticipation for the follow-up release from US metallers Howl as they hopefully built on the promise ignited with the first record was certainly fuelled by a level of eagerness. This was a band which showed a sludge/stoner/doom mentality and strength which suggested major things from them ahead. The release of Bloodlines via Relapse Records, certainly shows the Providence, Rhode Island band as having evolved and expanded their sound though maybe to the detriment of real clarity of their direction but then predictability has no place in music so there is no problem with the stance of the new album in that respect. It does though leave a sense of missing its target. Bloodlines ravages the ear with accomplished potently sculpted aggressive sounds and an undoubted passion but it fails to ignite the passions and fervour their earlier promise suggested possible, it is simply a release which just has not anything truly new to say.
It should be said right away that Bloodlines is a thoroughly enjoyable and commanding confrontation, the release showing the band evolving and honing their immense power through their relentless touring ethic which has seen the band alongside the likes of Saint Vitus, Kylesa, Pentagram and numerous others. Recorded with producer Zeus (Hatebreed, Crowbar, Terror), the album is a muscle bound predator with intimidating rhythms, malevolent riffs, and devious sonic acid combining to be an undeniably satisfying aggressor. It has hooks which carve lingering moments and a prowling snarl that has the measure of the defences and appetite yet at no moment does the album light a fire, something its predecessor was more successful at.
Opening track Attrition makes a rich and attention grabbing entrance, the early flames of guitar a sonic beckoning upon chewing urgent riffs and firm rhythms. Into its stride the track prowls and stomps with sinews pressing the ear and vocals scowling like a bear in heat, Mastodon and even more so Black Tusk references rearing their head quite soon on. Bass and drums provide a sturdy cage around the enterprising guitar teases and sonic cuts, and by its departure the song has lit a definite appetite for the release which the following Midnight Eyes with its rampaging drums and scything melodic blades alongside persistently niggling riffs has the fight for. A carnivorous death metal breath marks its charging metal gait whilst the song twists and turns on its feet, a thick stoner persuasion emerging from the savage intensity before changing into a doom lined finale.
The Devildriver like Demonic leaves an exhausting and enterprising if familiar onslaught upon the ear with a sonic wind from the guitar spiralling within the brewed raptorial intensity, whilst the likes of the excellent Down So Low and the equally impressive With A Blade reach higher pinnacles for the album. The first of the two emerges from a chilling sinister ambience, a heavy malevolence in vocals and energy wrapping its leering presence around the ear with devilish intent within a mesmeric yet muscular stoner embrace. The track soon brings thrash elements in to press thoughts and emotions to their limits before returning to the almost crawling insidious invidiousness. The second of the two again finds a compelling union of nastily aggressive intensity and a melodic touch which sears with acidic might and craft. The tracks standout with their inventive intent and ready to shuffle up their pace, energy, and directions, though again neither dramatically or effectively unveil anything new of enough potency to open up ardour or feisty passion. Of War is one song though which is close to doing both things, and though it like the others is delivering recognisable weaponry, the track is an anthemic and contagious storm from which its Lamb Of God toned voice makes a familiar but tempting call.
The Mouth of Madness with its vindictive bass sound and the closing rapacious Embrace Your Nerve complete the album with strength and notable craft if failing to find the lure of the bigger triumphs on Bloodlines. Maybe it is being unfair to expect the band to immediately fulfil the promise previously suggested and without doubt the album is one which gets the job done and makes for a pleasing hour or so but the feeling of a lost opportunity and a tinge of disappointment does accompany the release. With emerging bands such as XII Boar and especially Desert Storm finding original and far more heady heights with their new album, Howl have some evolving still to do to persuade ears and passions to go their way.
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