The Howling Wind unleash devious strength, killer instinct on ‘Of Babalon’

I grew up a huge fan of professional wrestling, much to the chagrin of my parents and just about everyone around me that I bombarded with my passion, and it’s an obsession that certainly has died hard over the last decade as the product has turned to garbage. I guess it’s not totally dead. I did subject myself to it this past Monday. Less said the better.

Anyway, when I was a kid and would daydream about my ring-tested heroes, I’d often think about dynamic tag team combinations that could be put together to rule the world. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant! Ric Flair and Bret Hart! Kamala and Abdullah the fucking Butcher! If only these men could come together and become the incredible wrestling forces I knew they could be, they would dominate tag team wrestling and hold whatever titles they wanted for as long as they chose. No one clued my ass in to the fact it was all fake and how these things would never be, but a kid can dream.

That brings me to The Howling Wind, a formidable cross-country-connected black metal outfit that is herculean and unstoppable. If they could be compared to a tag team, it would have to be the mid-1980s, heel version of the Road Warriors. Scary, menacing, relentless killing machines that would tear your face off or flip you upside down onto your neck after a clothesline from the top rope. And while the Warriors were respected by audiences of a worked sport, the dudes who make up the Howling Wind — Ryan Lipynsky of the late, great Unearthly Trance and Tim Call of the mighty Aldebaran, among others — are very much for real. Their music is a dark, brooding monster that is out to slay and leave tangible bruises and real blood in their wake. They combine their intense skills to make for a devastating union that has proved its might over five years together.

We now mark the release of the Howling Wind’s third studio album, the impressively massive “Of Babalon.” It follows up the band’s last effort “Into the Cryosphere,” that dropped two years ago, and adds another element of concrete girth to the band’s already impressive collection of heaviness. It’s a record that’s instantly pleasing, one that doesn’t need time to set moods or atmospheres in your mind. Instead, it goes in for the kill, never looking behind to see if anything is following and never concerned that they might be doing irreparable damage to your psyche. From the start, you’re beaten. The metal is melodic, swirling, and storming, and Call’s drumming is precise and furious. He’s not just throwing a bunch of blasts and speed out there to do it. No, he has a plan, and it’s well executed.

Majesty and fire open the record on “The Seal Upon the Tomb,” a song with a surging guitar line, Lipynsky’s trademark scowling vocals, and a whole lot of darkness. “Beast of the Sea” is a fit, trim crusher, built with blistering guitar riff and a violent, criminal brutality. It’s the song that gets stuck in my head the easiest of this collection. “Graal” is a really savage cut, but there’s also a slight hint of approachability to it. Same goes for “Scaling the Walls,” a song that reminds me of Nachtmystium a few albums back (and on the one they’re about to release), and truth be told, it’s pretty damn catchy and fun. I feel weird typing that when recapping such a punishing record. But you need your peaks and valleys to keep things exciting, and this one is a nice injection of energy.

“The Mountain View” starts off fairly reflective, but you know that’s not going to last. Sure enough, a punk-emblazoned assault breaks out, guitar lines rise like the tide, and the whole thing gets washed out in a war-like assault. “Abominations and Filth” is a power ballad. OK, it obviously isn’t. It’s jerky with some rock-solid drumming, a bit of a pulled-back tempo, and eventually it blasts like a rocket into bleakness. “Chronozon” starts off with an off-kilter guitar line but eventually moves into a surgical guitar line, some chest-bruising double-kick drumming, and a sudden tempo shift toward the end that somehow makes the song heavier and thrashier. “Gateways” has a similar feel, with the addition of some buzzing guitar work, a bit of atmosphere, a repetitious exercise in riffing, and a gazey melt-away. Then there’s a record-capping surprise, that being their blood-curdling cover of Hellhammer’s “Horus/Aggressor,” that actually makes the piece seem more deadly and devious than the deranged original. That’s not easy to pull off.

These two might as well pack on some 10-inch spike shoulder pads, spider web face paint, and the fucking black metal tag team titles, because there aren’t many duos who make music this massive and heavy. Three albums in, these guys haven’t gasped a breath of disappointment, and they just keep getting better and more muscular. They’re dragging you into the dark for a severe beating, and there’s nothing you can do to get away.

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