There’s a lot of pent up anger and frustration going around these days. Whether that certain something bothering you is serious like the weather or banal as your governing politicians spewing hatred, it’s always nice to be able to turn to metal in search of some escapism. To find a way out. A portal to a safe space. A wonderful soundtrack for hollow and bitter soliloquies. You might think, at first, that San Francisco’s ex-trio, now duo, Howls of Ebb provide exactly that with their experimentally tinged blackened death adorned with dark and threatening atmospheres and hints of aggression. Yet, you’ll soon learn that there’s something deviously different waiting on the other side. Their music, image, presence, and themes are all dichotomous, trapped in a circle of arduous, meticulous method, devilish caprices, and metal burlesque. A band of satyrs dancing and making mischief in some hellish microcosm, having fun while you suffer.
Instead of going back to the meaty, relatively straightforward sound found on their first record, 2014’s Vigils of the 3rd Eye, Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Wovs follows in the footsteps of their expansive, explorative 2015 EP The Marrow Veil and moves even farther away from anything resembling conventional blackened death metal. No one sounds quite like them. Aside from certain segments that implement traditional metal phrases and progressions, such as the introductory galloping, romping, and stomping “The 6h Octopul’th Grin,” they generally dwell in sonic areas populated by jangly, dangling guitars and syncopated polyrhythms that call to mind post-punk more than death metal. Over these rhythms punctuated by amorphous bass lines float clean guitars with dissonant wails and squeaky leads that deconstruct rather than lead the pieces. The vocals are slurred through hushed growls while they move among the convenient syllabic arrangements, approaching glossolalia. From the gloriously macabre cover by Agostino Arrivabene, over the lyrics that oscillate between complete absurdity and semblances of sense, to the the music itself – the album as a whole offers a confusing yet deeply rewarding experience.
After the first two raw and fast tracks, the aforementioned “The 6th Octopul’th Grin” and the raging standout “Cabals of Molder,” the record drops into a psychedelic lull with “Maat Mons’ Fume.” The longest song on the album rolls restlessly but slowly at first, moody and heavy in an unexpected, demented way. Darkness bleeds in bouts, alternates with the sonic equivalent of Mephistophelian cackle, and carves out a piece that is simultaneously layered and simple. The subsequent tune, “7 Ascetic Cinders, 8 Dowries of gA’nOm,” continues with the slow tempo, swinging like a drunkard. It developes both into a liturgy and a deviant prayer by the time the guitar becomes a siren and lurches into an uproar. These two songs are also the most compositionally intricate, unrelentingly evolving pieces. Still, Howls of Ebb’s approach never veers too much into the chaotic or complex. Even when, after the short acoustic interlude “Gaunt Vertigo,” they come back to faster tunes and disjointed hyper rhythms or as they close the record with the sparse but fierce “The Apocryphalic Wick.” As far as negatives are concerned, there’s a sense of fragmentation and unfinishedness to some of the tracks and the album in its entirety, almost like the band wasn’t sure how to combine and connect the material they created. A minor nuisance and nothing that would impede enjoyment.
Having lost a member, bassist bE9-bLigHt, following last year’s release, bass duties have been taken over by vocalist and guitarist zELeVthaND aka Zee-Luuuvft-Huund, whilst RoTn’kbLisK aka Roteen’ Blisssss continues his reign on the drums. There’s no doubt: Zee-Luuuvft-Huund’s “vibrations, low auras, polysyllabic morbid mysticisms” are masterful and Roteen’ Blisssss’ mastery of “cadence of limp and duress, bronze aura” is exquisite. The album is thus performed with aplomb and enshrined in a trance inducing, psychotically calibrated, and pus-excreting production1, which nuances all the instruments and even gives plenty of emphasis to the bass, an instrument that we often find buried in the mix of (non-technical) death metal releases. Did I mention that everything about the band is just a tiny bit tongue-in-cheek?
Be as it may, Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows is no joke. A neatly crafted, nicely executed record that is among the most enjoyable I’ve heard this year. Still, there’s much potential bubbling under the surface of Howls of Ebb. Seeing as they’re already so accomplished, one has to be excited to hear where they’ll take us next.