THE HOWLING WIND TAKE YOU INTO THE CRYOSPHERE, AND YOU COME OUT A MAN
Even in the diverse universe of U.S. black metal, New York City is an anomaly. On top of being the least black metal place around by kvltist standards (what with it not being a heavily wooded area in Europe), it would seem to be rife with musicians who approach the music in a condescending fashion and with a deep sense of detachment, viewing it as a novelty or outsider art. And yet, NYC has produced a brilliant, bouillabaisse-style approach to the genre, with proggy, post-Weakling bands (Krallice), hardcore veterans cherry-picking from black metal to maximum effect (Tombs), and a well-meaning but generally snore-inducing variety (Liturgy). The common thread between the best Metro Area-based BM enthusiasts is their unironic approach to the genre, a deep understanding of its history and DNA instead of finding Transylvanian Hunger in a used record store and declaring, “Oh yeah, I ‘love’ black metal.” And this trend is ably continued by Profound Lore signees The Howling Wind, a band that has a burly, mid-paced take on proceedings without sacrificing heart or history (especially on Into the Cryosphere, their latest). But like recent releases by Valkyrja and Ov Hell, it also has a lot to offer metalheads less sympathetic to the genre’s grim and frostbitten charms, with tons of muscle alongside atmospherics. Despite being associated with the U.S.’ most vibrant metropolis, they can still trade blows with their most grim and isolated peers.
Like Tombs, The Howling Wind have more moments than not that are decidedly not black metal. But unlike Tombs, they don’t take a dip into post-hardcore or ambient music to broaden their horizons. The band seem obsessed with the grimy gigantism of Darkthrone’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky, creating music that’s dense, grandiose and epic but still incredibly tangible and riff-based. Take the shape-shifting brilliance of “Will is the Only Fire Under an Avalanche”: what starts as a viking metal stomp slowly morphs into a wall of moaning guitars and thunderous drums, eventually giving way to an apocalyptic riff that slowly dissipates. The album’s best moments are where the band’s penchant for the old/true school seamlessly interweave themselves with forward-thinking outside influences, like how “Teeth of Frost” turns a drone-doom crawl into a forceful march right at its halfway point, or “Ice Cracking in the Abyss” combines frosty blastbeats and tremolo picking with balls-out Celtic Frost worship. But moments like this are only apparent when isolated and examined; The Howling Wind execute them in the most tasteful way possible, sanding down the edges of their influences so that they interlock unnoticed.
The album’s density almost distracts one from its more bizarre points: it’s incredibly brief running time (33 minutes!) and it’s strange ending: “Impossible Eternity”‘s slow unfurling of a sad arpeggio over the course of 6 1/2 minutes capped off by the album’s most fierce and straightforward song, “A Dead Galaxy Mirrored in an Icy Mirage”, bowing at under 2 1/2 minutes and thusly closing the album out. But after a few listens, one feels silly expecting Into the Cryosphere to end in any manner except the one in which it cared to, even if it catches one off guard initially. The band’s confidence in itself is its greatest attribute, and what allows them to traipse so ably between genres. Perhaps a little intimidatingly dense at first, The Howling Wind eventually win you the fuck over, perhaps permanently putting to rest the theory that black metal can’t come from cities. While those on the fringes contribute to the genre’s myopia, The Howling Wind are among the bands pushing things forward. Of course, this is still black metal, so in doing so, they still have one foot very firmly — and faithfull y– planted in the past.
(3 1/2 out of 5 horns)