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Not entirely full, but… - 80%

Xyrth, February 22nd, 2011

This is a band friends and metal blogs alike have recommended me a lot lately, even before the release of their first full-length. And this record here even made it to a good deal of respectable (at least according to my tastes) best of 2010 lists. When I finally laid my ears on it, I must say I was a bit disappointed. I was expecting so much more. It’s not a bad album at all, but its not the sludge masterpiece so many claim it is. I guess I just fell to the exaggerated hip surrounding it. Or perhaps it was my own sky-high expectations created as a result of the utterly ass-kicking cover artwork that trapped me like a hapless rat, courtesy of Ryan Begley.

Though I haven’t listened to their first EP, listening to their first long play brought me to the conclusion that Howl’s music seems to be situated somewhere between traditional sludge metal acts like Eyehategod and Crowbar and the more recent branch of the more progressive and experimental sludge acts, like Mastodon, Baroness or Kylesa. They don’t deviate too far from the general aesthetics of the genre, nor have carved a particular new niche for themselves (at least yet), but their material is solid enough to be taken into account when naming the newest, and hopefully promising, acts of the scene.

Howl uses meaty distortion and chugging riffs to create an ominous and oppressive atmosphere. Vocals are performed in traditional sludge fashion, somewhere between a hardcore’s bark and a death growl. They’re efficient enough, bleak and aggressive. The bass doesn’t stands out much as a result of the already low and heavy mix, but it audible and solid. The drums however, are pretty interesting. At first listen it seems as though Timmy St. Amour isn’t doing anything special but after repeated listens his little drumming details start to appear and manifest to my ears. His creative flourishes might be more subtle than, say, Mastodon’s Bran Dailor or his double counterparts in Kylesa, but they add an extra ingredient to Howl’s caustic brew of sludge.

Most songs pound and pummel at slow/mid-paced rhythms. There are some tempo changes that prevent the album from plodding in stagnation, as well as interesting song structures. Some melodic touches here and there as well as the dynamic drumming add variation and to the tracks, though I wouldn’t say that there’s a particular track from Full of Hell that stands out. They all seem to possess more or less the same amount of quality, induce the same level of headbangerism, and be equally entertaining, like the ten-minute closer, “The Day of Rest”, which might seem outstanding at first listen but eventually turns out to be just an extended version of ideas and motifs already explored in the album, though not a bad thing. And even the song which I enjoy the most from this record, “Heavenless”, seems to me that way because of personal taste rather than it being a particularly memorable song.

This is a rather good, promising debut. Let’s hope the Howl guys keep up the good work and offer us a better sophomore. There are better sludge albums out there, but I recommend this to anyone searching for new bands that might surprise us in years to come.