Once banned, the Allen Ginsberg poem “Howl” is obligatory reading for rebels of an artistic bent. So it’s perhaps safe to assume that Howl, a machinelike metal act from Providence, R.I., is familiar with the work’s “angelheaded hipsters.” The drug- and sex-crazed beats who populate the mid-’50s poem live life to the extreme—something to which an extreme metal band can no doubt relate. But, whereas “Howl” leavens its angry fixes with heavenly connections, Howl’s full-length debut, Full of Hell, is unrelentingly dark. “We’re heavenless fuckers,” guitarist Vincent Hausman growls on the opening track, “Horns of Steel.” The song begins with a Mastodon-sized wallop and then picks up pace, evoking High on Fire at high-speed. Full of Hell is full of tempo changes, but the music, by and large, is appealingly consistent. As a singer, Hausman tackles each song with the kind of casual ferocity that, in a metal context, has an almost dronelike effect. And as a tunesmith, he and his bandmates—guitarist Andrea Black, bassist Robert Icaza, and drummer Timmy St. Amour—don’t compose so much as connect one riff to the next. In a recent issue of Decibel, Hausman explained this type of songwriting with a rather cryptic comment: “We’re not experienced enough yet to really make a certain kind of record,” he said. The interviewer didn’t bother to ask, What kind of record? Or if he did, it didn’t make the cut. But what I think Hausman meant is that Full of Hell is Metal 101 and not some advanced course in art-rock dynamics. The closest thing to variety this recording has to offer is a mid-album cut called “Heavenless.” The song begins with tribal drumming and waves of atmospheric feedback. After several measures, the guitarists introduce a ringing five-chord theme, which is repeated five times before the band lands on a long suspended note. What emerges from the instrumental haze is more typical of the rest of the album: guitars chugging in perfect sync with a double-kick beat. Much of Howl’s music is deeply percussive. In fact, one of the band’s best riffs, heard at the beginning of “The Day of Rest,” is just a two-chord chromatic progression. The guitarists move a half-step up the neck and then a half-step back. With all of the distortion clouding the tones, they might as well be banging on drums. Perhaps that, more than Howl’s name, is what connects this excellent new band to Ginsberg, who modeled his writing on actual speech patterns. He, too, knew it was all about the rhythm.
Howl performs May 29 at Maryland Deathfest at Sonar in Baltimore.