Whether we like them or not, genre tags are important. Of course, there are those who cling to them a little too fiercely, but, ultimately, labels can be pivotal in helping to translate the amorphous mass that is heavy metal. We all have our favorites, but often the most impressive are those artists unafraid to eschew such obvious restrictions – rocking out with their proverbial cocks, well and truly out. One such entity, Cleveland metallic hardcore veterans, Integrity, are so inclined, and never more so than on ninth studio album Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume. If you’ve followed the band’s thirty year career at all, you may think you have an idea of what you’re in for; but Howling demonstrates a disregard for convention as flagrant as my indifference for sentence length. Experimentation, as the word suggests, can be unpredictable, with success often hinging on a creator’s restraint – I’m pleased to report that, while corrosive, Integrity‘s newest is also resolutely restorative.
Founding member and infamous vocalist, Dwid Hellion, has breathed new life into the band with one fell swoop – namely the recruiting of guitarist, Domenic Romeo (Pulling Teeth). After a pseudo-instrumental intro, the first full track, “Blood Sermon” wastes absolutely no time announcing its arrival with screaming leads and Hellion’s distinct hoarse vocals. Immediately recognizable are the black metal tropes on display; incessant blasting and stark tremolo riffs tear across the canvas for a brutal introduction. This is the first, but far from last, foray into a collection of hardcore-bedecked metal songs that allow more than a lilt to affect their ever changing accents. While “Hymn For the Children of the Black Flame” rockets by as a concise but ravenous beating, it’s “Die With Your Boots On” that really rattles the bones. Not to be confused with the Iron Maiden track, this might be the record’s most overtly metallic moment, channelling Motorhead with traditional leads, stomping verse riffs and a scream-along chorus that’s most definitely a contender for my Song ‘O the Year. If you can hear this and sit perfectly still, then you and I, my friend, are not of the same blood.
The first true departure takes the form of “Serpent of the Crossroads,” slithering on its belly with a multitude of slow to mid-paced riffs. Much of the record, to Hellion’s credit, is designed to showcase the exceptional musicianship of Romeo, but this track in particular is a platter of complex leads and frivolous soloing that even veers towards the neoclassical come the halfway mark. “7 Reece Mews” further pushes the boat out with a verse that dabbles in dark country and finds Hellion echoing Nick Cave and trying out his own effective brand of murder balladry, before the song assumes an alt-rock lead that wouldn’t be entirely out of place on a Manic Street Preachers record. While interesting in its delivery, the song does over-run somewhat and, back-to-back with “Unholy Salvation of Sabbatei Zevi” – another piece that overstays its welcome despite featuring a great My Dying Bride riff – the middle of Howling begins to form something of a vacuum, regardless of its quality.
Much of the album is an endorsement of Dwid Hellion’s ability as a leader. Although his rasped vocals are, at this point, legendary, his overwhelming vision for the band and ability to take a step back so that Romeo’s lead work might galvanize an otherwise potentially homogeneous release, is to be commended. And there are plenty of risks to be taken – though much of Howling‘s latter half resumes its genre-specific ruckus, penultimate song “String Up My Teeth” marks the clearest side-step with hard rock motifs and a chorus layered with powerful female backing vocals. The payoffs are profound.
I have a contentious relationship with hardcore. Previous excursions into that bare-knuckle den have often resulted in ambivalence – sacrilege, considering the genre’s unapologetic reputation. Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume represents, for me and hopefully you, a truly satisfying venture into a sound that has never quite managed to leave me that contented shade of bloody that I so masochistically desire. Integrity, ever true to their name, have flown their flag for the better part of three decades and upheld the intrinsic no-compromise attitude by abjectly refusing to be confined by self-imposed genre stipulations. In doing so, we are rewarded with a record that exemplifies its creators whilst never shying away from artistic growth, and it comes highly recommended.