At least the front cover is really, really cool!
There wasn’t anything spectacular about Howl’s previous album Full of Hell. While possessing the sufficient musical chops to put together some decent sounding riffs, the band was still not able to muster up a record that can be seen as a stand-out. It did have its moments, particularly when aping the furnace-like tone of High on Fire (almost respectably, one might say). However, what Howl’s first full length did have over this marginal follow-up (besides better songs) was a clearer vision of the sound they wanted to ultimately achieve. Full of Hell exhibited a band that was just warming up before unveiling something truly notable, but just hadn’t quite gotten it yet. Unfortunately, on Bloodlines their former vision seems to have blurred and any existing creative impetus has been hindered and not harnessed.
Touted incessantly as a stoner/doom metal band, Howl no longer bares much remnant of that sound. They remain undeniably heavy but seem to be incorporating other approaches on Bloodlines that only serve to undermine their efforts. The record plays like a grab bag of influences, and, as opposed to its predecessor, it sounds like Howl’s already limited repertoire has been spread way too thin.
Perhaps the band isn’t solely to blame for the heavy dilution. A poor (yet overly glorified) choice in record producer may have been this record’s undoing. Keith Souza was behind the boards for the first album, and seemingly his guidance gave the band a promising foundation. Nevertheless, his groundwork was possibly undone when not-so-super producer Zeus (Hatebreed, Crowbar, Terror) took the helm for this release. Some of the prepackaged hooks and breakdowns that are all too prevalent in Zeus’ work seem to be the very elements that break up Howl’s central theme.
This is evident instantly as the album opens up with “Attrition”, with its crunching riff cadence that will woefully fuel the furiously stupid neo-moshing of many backpack-clad teens, all of who will show an enthusiastic appreciation of the song's mediocrity by punching the air in unison like a remedial Karate class. On the second track, “Midnight Eyes”, a little saving grace appears at two and a half minutes, riding in on the back of a bluesy, galloping doom swing. Unfortunately, the Sabbath-like interlude is soon interrupted with a return to beating the dead horse of muted open chord chugging.
The middle block of the album has no rising action; in fact, it doesn’t plateau. All the while, the only continuity evident in this album is the cyclical use of made-for-Ozzfest, thug-ballerina fodder. Where was Zeus’ ear during the recording? At what point did he stop detecting nauseating repetition?
“With a Blade” has a redeeming quality, opening with a wide open jam full of stoner groove that plays into a melodic part, and then punctuated with a very heavy breakdown. Still, this song marks too small a peak on the graph to overshadow the distressingly annoying “Of War”, with its pompous, Power Metal affect. Perhaps they really are a stoner/doom metal band deep down inside, but you would have to remove several cosmetic layers to notice.
The main disappointment about Bloodlines is that you can hear potential smothered underneath all of the cheesy go-to mosh parts. This band does play with some conviction, and maybe for Howl the third time might be a charm. For the band to get back in touch with their sound, it will require a producer that is a little more relevant to their genre than Zeus. Maybe, if Keith Souza were to come back and cut off a whole lot of fat from this album, Relapse might be able to repackage it as an EP, doing some well-deserved justice to that fantastic front-cover illustration.