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I would like to take a moment here to discuss how hard both Profound Lore and Gilead Media are killing it right now. These two record labels have the underground metal game in a complete headlock and it's nice to know that in this day in age there are two labels out there in which I can buy almost any bands record that is signed to either of these labels and take confidence that it will be (at the very least) an above average album. Dark Descent is another label that's getting close to the quality and consistency of the above noted, but that label has still yet to entirely gain my full, wholehearted trust. It's true however that that dude Matt is getting very close with his label as well. I have some catching up to do with this band as they've already dropped several LPs since this album. While this was already released three or four years ago at this point, It did not initially catch my attention much and I never really listened closely past the first couple of tracks. However, I've recently been revisiting "Into the Cryosphere" as it makes for a great late winter album.
So as usual (and as expected) coming from Profound Lore, we have this two-piece long distance type of collaboration project The Howling Wind, who after heavy scrutiny are indeed worthy and live up to the high quality control of the label's roster. While this band may initially strike some listeners as dull and altogether un-enthralling, or even just plain unnecessary, further listening will reveal a developed atmosphere and rocking, memorable approach to their songwriting, yet conversely also an experimental and challenging, obtuse approach to this album's overall sonic constructions. While this band is often associated with both Castevet and Krallice, The Howling Wind do not really have all that much in common with those two bands truth be told. These guys create a very desolate and haunting sound, however they are not cold, grim, or icy in the ways that one may typically expect. This is loosely black metal in it's approach but there's a good deal of post-metal and dingy, dungeon dwelling stoner-metal influences going on with this album as well. Nothing is blatant and nothing beats you over the skull, and The Howling Wind tread a noticeably unique path that is impossible to pigeonhole. The Howling Wind will not wow you with their music, but given the adequate amount of time to sink in and take it's hold on your psyche their compositions prove memorable and worthy.
The production here is indeed desolate, hollow-sounding, and murky. The Darkthrone and Celtic Frost comparisons are not too far off, but those that go into listening to this album expecting to hear distinct similarities will not really find them. This recording has a very live feel to it. It really kind of sounds like they just threw up two mics in the jam room and recorded the fuckin thing in a stereo-mix and just put it out as is. The drums are cloudy and obscured as the kick drum is hardly even audible. The guitars are similarly clouded and hazy, with grim, shrill vocals that blend into the whole of the recording. While this may sound potentially hodge-podge, lazy, and garden variety in it's approach; repeated listening will reveal that it is rather very calculated and intentional in an attempt to grip the listener with a unique chilling quality which does indeed work for this band. This is very much a 'take it in it's entirety' sort of album as individual stand-alone tracks will be much less meaningful or effective than taking in this record as a whole.
Recommended for those into: Tombs, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Castevet, Darkthrone, Krallice.
Maybe it's just because this winter is really getting to me and putting me in a near-constant dark mood, but I have been listening to this album a lot in the last couple weeks. As I get older, I find myself hardly ever listening to the black metal that I used to and I can't think of any new bands off the top of my head that fall into the black metal category that have really held my attention. Maybe Krallice. These guys are different. There seems to be a more genuine sense of darkness and chaos to this record.
I'm not going to give a song by song rundown of the whole record. The songs have a pretty consistent feel to them, but at the same time the material is more varied than most bands dabbling in black metal would dare to write. There are plenty of parts with the Darkthrone-esque Satan-blast drumming; there's some mid-tempo rocking that evokes old Celtic Frost attitude and almost reminds me of some of High on Fire's faster stuff; and there are crushingly slow doom parts with riffs Neurosis wish they wrote. While comparisons can be made with these other bands, this record never sounds like a lame rip-off of those bands. At the same time, while the material is diverse, it doesn't sound like a thrown-together conglomeration of different styles. Everything fits together as a cohesive whole. In fact, I think this album is best appreciated when listened to front-to-back instead of skipping ahead to find that one kick-ass track.
As for the individual instruments, everything sounds pretty killer. The guitar tone is thick and heavy and compliments the riffs, both fast and slow, perfectly. Fast picking is distinguishable and slow parts are nice and meaty. There are some higher, spacey sounding lead guitar parts and some solos too that sound neither pretentiously technical nor amateurish. They actually fit the songs. Vocals are distorted and somewhat distant sounding, but some of the lyrics are actually decipherable, which is nice. Drums thunder away without getting in the way or being buried by the wall of guitars and have a nice warmth to their tone (even though the music is completely frostbitten). Bass guitar isn't very present, but there are a couple parts where it emerges and makes an important contribution to the sound. Overall, there is a dark haze to the production, like looking at something through a blizzard, but it's not muddy and I wouldn't consider it lo-fi at all. I don't know if this album was actually made on analog equipment or digital, but it sounds analog - a nice contrast to the current standard of overly slick digital recording.
This is a strong release, and I recommend it to anyone into dark sounding metal. I'm gonna have to check out their previous releases now and hopefully we hear more from this band.
The Howling Wind is a very interesting cross-country collaboration by two members having served time in other US cult metal acts: Ryan Lipynsky, aka Killusion was a member of the seminal, deep NY black metal act Thralldom, but is better known as the vocalist and guitarist for Unearthly Trance. Parasitus Nex also works with Oregon death fiends Splatterhouse and The Warwolves as their vocalist, but plays the drums here. The style these two conjure on this sophomore outing Into the Cryosphere is one of relative novelty: black metal infused with elements of doom and sludge metal, without any loss to the gnarled, bitter core.
The band is clearly into both brutality and isolation, as the bleak wintry scape of the cover mountain infers to the viewer. The music is a pretty pure reflection of this, with a resonant, cavernous feel to it that feels as if it being shouted at the listener from the depths of some rime-touched valley. The hostility and density of the guitar tones are to be admired, especially when they pick up into a more punkish/black/death onslaught like "Ice Cracking in the Abyss" where the vocals really shine due to their frigid atrophy. The beats range from a competent blasting to a slower, doomed crawl like "Will is the Only Fire Under an Avalanche". But despite the range and reach, and the killer, meaty tones the band evokes, I actually didn't find the material all that interesting until the two final songs. "Impossible Eternity" is a woeful dirge of monumental, crushing force, like a glacier slowly moving over your legs while you remain attached to them, agape in horror and unable to move until an EMT arrives with a bone saw. Loved the almost psychedelic desolation this song creates. The closer "A Dead Galaxy Mirrored in an Icy Mirage" is pretty quick, just over 2 minutes in length, but it too marries an oppressive atmosphere to a stream of dense, post-core black hooks that reel in the listener, especially when it picks up in speed to a schizophrenic blasting.
The Howling Wind is basically the perfect metal soundtrack to a movie like The Thing, where there is just no fucking hope and you should expect no quarter from the harshness of nature and evolution. While I enjoyed the atmosphere of almost the entire album, I simply didn't care for most of the riffs, with a few exceptions like the bruising "Teeth of Frost" or the others I mentioned previously. I can certainly see fans of such wide ranging artists as Tombs or Soilent Green snatching this album up, but I couldn't make a connection with half the songs. At any rate, Into the Cryosphere does seem like a pair of veterans feeling out a very specific vision, and the music reflects this. I can only hope the band will explore their more interesting, perturbing, discordant elements in the future, for an even colder sound, and lay off some of the more basal, uninteresting black/sludge riffs that litter the record.
Highlights: Teeth of Frost, Impossible Eternity, A Dead Galaxy Mirrored in An Icy Mirage