Author: Bloodshot Grub
Artist: Howls of Ebb
Album: The Marrow Veil
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
A metal fan in 2015 is faced with a true embarrassment of riches. There is far more metal being released every year than I’ll ever be able to listen to. Even if I restricted myself to the albums I expect to really enjoy, I doubt I would ever be able to get through it all. This scenario makes album art an invaluable tool in finding new music. Over the course of over 20 years of metal exploration, I’ve cultivated what I believe to be a very accurate sense of what an album will sound like based on the name and album art, and that helps me hone on the music that I find most interesting. It’s not a perfect system, because while I might be able to make a good guess of what a band sounds like, I still have no idea whether it will actually be any good until I get it into my ears. And that brings us to Howls of Ebb.
It was the cover art for Howls of Ebb’s debut full length, Vigils of the 3rd Eye, that first drew my attention to the band. The Marrow Veil, the EP that is the subject of this review, had just been released, and that ended up being my first taste of their music. I was expecting, based on the cover art, some strange death or blackened death metal. Howls of Ebb is exactly that, with strange in bold, and underlined, and circled several dozen times in red pen. As is often the case with with the avant-garde, Howls of Ebb is difficult to classify and compare. Portal, Morbus Chron, and Swallowed are the closest comparisons that come to mind, but neither of those really get at the Howls of Ebb sound: eldritch, cinematic, almost subdued black/death metal.
Although labeled as an EP, The Marrow Veil, at almost 35 minutes, doesn’t fall far short of a proper album. Of the EP’s two lengthy songs (separated by a brief interlude), “Standing on Bedlam, Burning in Bliss” focuses on the more avant-garde elements, with several sections of ambient weirdness and several cheesy, off-kilter melodies. “Iron Laurels, Woven in Rust” doesn’t contrast too strongly with its counterpart but is definitely closer to orthodox black and death metal. Both songs have a clear concept and identity, which is one of the band’s overall strengths and also one of the reasons that Vigils of the 3rd Eye’s nine songs over 48 minutes is a better format for their music.
The ideas featured in The Marrow Veil are interesting primarily as a result of their novelty. Once the songs begin to meander and overstay their welcome, the novelty wears off and the EP loses some ground. There are certainly some very strong moments, but most of the ideas do not stand well on their own. With Vigils, there’s a little more variety and that makes the whole package considerably more palatable. This is not to say that The Marrow Veil doesn’t work at all. Quite the contrary. Here and on Vigils, there’s a surreal and sinister atmosphere that maintains interest even when the avant-garde veneer has worn thin. Plenty of metal bands are atmospheric, but Howls of Ebb’s approach is unique, sounding something like the aural equivalent of the bizarre horror films of 1970’s Italy (and even with some similarity to those films’ often excellent prog rock soundtracks). And it’s pleasantly subtle, which is a rarity in this style. The Marrow Veil doesn’t pummel you with hatred and evil; it lures you in until you find yourself lost in it. The production is a big help: clear, dynamic, and very organic. It’s actually quite unremarkable, lacking the suffocating density of Incantation-style cavernous death metal, the visceral impact of brutal death metal, or the raw bite of primitive black metal. The production here gets out of the way and lets the music speak for itself.
Howls of Ebb is a band to watch. They have their own sound and are capable of cultivating an atmosphere that few bands can match. I predict that in the long term, The Marrow Veil will be seen as more of a curious side note in a well-regarded discography, and I recommend that those new to the band start with their full-length debut, but this album is nevertheless enjoyable and worth your attention.
- Bloodshot Grub
Check ’em out here: https://i-voidhangerrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-marrow-veil