Fine, if Grave Miasma are oddballs, the San Franciscan duo behind Howls Of Ebb are black-belted weirdos. We’re talking so fringe, they’re the fuzz hanging off the fez Walter Bishop is wearing while he peruses the cut-out bin at Aquarius Records. And wouldn’t you know it, HoB is getting stranger.
Last year’s mini-LP The Marrow Veil unspooled into side-length explorations of transcendental blackened death metal that wasn’t really blackened nor death metal. It was like This Heat locked into !T.O.O.H.!‘s walk cycle or something. Or something. “Cabals Of Molder,” the first track from HOB’s second full-length, Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows, invites the same tossed-dart, throw-up-your-hands descriptions because it feels like the ground floor of something instead of something else.
Guitarist/bassist/vocalist Zee-Luuuvft-Huund (Earth name: Patrick Brown) and drummer Roteen’ Blisssss (Zach Wells) deal in tip-of-the-tongue moments. ZLH’s clean-ish guitars recall an avant-garde-scrambled, chitinous Colossamite stuck in the same parallel universe as Psudoku’s prog-influenced blasts. The riffs cut through cut-up sections that are like Nuggets to the power of Voivod assaulted by cosmic debris. Nuclear War Now!’s Bandcamp offers Order From Chaos as a comparison. They’re not wrong; this is Rorschach stuff. But any point of reference drawing a line is erased by HOB’s next shake.
“Cabals Of Molder”‘s unpredictability is thrilling, but HOB’s songcraft is what keeps this up in the air. Even though they are out on the edge, ZLH and RB operate within the confines of recognizable music, meaning a reprieve from the splitting headache of “future nauseous.” From a songwriting perspective, it all kind of make senses. It’s even kind of logical, though that designation hinges on how quickly you normalize strange happenings and your susceptibility to aurally delivered dementia. At the very least, what HOB is doing is highly composed and painstakingly thought-out. Plus, the duo’s skills are immense. Check out the way the rhythms even have a certain pliability, a practiced swing normally blocked at metal’s firewall. That’s not an outsider accident. That took some hours in a practice space to attain.
That said, let’s be clear: “Cabals Of Molder” ain’t close to whatever metal sneaks onto the Billboard charts. This is far enough away from where most metal is stationed that the lactic acid-like buildup caused by an over-reliance on tropes is, uh, unlikely. In other words, you’re not going to hear much like this regardless of your place in metal’s soil horizon. Not in this decade, at least. And this will take time to sink in. At first it’s dizzying. Then it’s clean. Then it’s complex. Then, jeez, those lyrics. Then it’s a blend of every play that came before and every new thing you hear after. The most accurate thing you can say about it is that it’s different. It’s cool that you can still say that a few days later.
Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows is out 4/15 via I, Voidhanger.