PICK OF THE WEEK: Integrity fear no changes, pack unique chaos into stunning, fiery ‘Howling…’

Photo by Jimmy Hubbard

About a month ago, I saw Iron Maiden for like the millionth time. About halfway through their show, it made me realize that these guys, almost entirely in their 60s, are in front of me pouring more energy than I could even imagine into an elaborate stage show. They’re not relying on the hits. They’re pushing challenging new music and related visuals that pretty much make these guys timeless. They cannot die.

I had the same thought taking on “Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Continue,” the 12th full-length effort from long-standing metallic hardcore institution Integrity. This band already has a well-regarded reputation and always have been known as one of the heaviest, most aggressive bands in the world, balancing almost entirely on vocalist Dwid Hellion’s shoulders. This 11-track, 47:30-long record (if you buy it digitally, you get three bonus cuts) isn’t just a run-of-the-mill Integrity record, nor is it one that just shows up and proves there remains power in the Integrity name. Instead, Hellion takes a ton of chances on this record. Yes, much of what’s contained on this album does feel like classic Integrity, but there are so many new twists and turns, and it almost always works. This is an ambitious record that refuses to back down both musically and philosophically (we’re talking an album walking the path of humanity’s final days), and the fires burning within Hellion, guitarist Domenic Romeo, and everyone else collaborating on this collection are unmistakable, making them as dangerous as they’ve ever been.

“Fallen to Destroy” and “Blood Omen” are connected and open the record, as guitars light up, and Hellion’s snarls become pronounced. The song continues to speed ahead, with stellar leads catching fire, and the track ending with a wild, solitary howl. “Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame” has strong guitars sprawling, as Hellion’s animalistic roars come bursting through. Metallic soloing splashes shades of chrome onto the music, and the song ends in a fury. “I Am the Spell” is slow driving and punishing before it launches into a hardcore-style assault. Guitars bubble as the vocals exude emotion, and a raucous section of chugging meets up with eerie voices, leading into the void. “Die With Your Boots On” is not a Maiden cover, but a track that does lean much closer toward the metal spectrum. Strong riffs, glorious melodies, and scraping vocals fill the guts, while the soloing lights up, and Hellion screams the title until his point is bloodily made. “Serpent of the Crossroads” is the first in a stretch of longer songs, clocking at 6:41 and beginning clean. The song itself has a Southern, sunburnt feel, with its slide guitars and Hellion’s gravelly signing. As the song stretches on, so does the weight of the journey, as Hellion calls, “I can never be free!” with the track winding to a thunderous end.

“Unholy Salvation of Sabbatai Zevi ” is a 7:25 track that starts with haunted house-style organs that chill to the bone and guitars cracking open and sprawling. The track is both doom-stained and heavy as fuck, as the pace burns, the growls devastate, and the final moments are drenched in speed and blinding soloing. “7 Reece Mews” is a 6:57 pounder that also adds some different elements. The guitar work is steely, and Hellion snarls over much of this, sounding threatening and pained. “Tonight, we shall bleed them,” he declares over dusty noir, as the guitars bask in the heat, the tempo takes on some swagger, and the last remnants bleed away. “Burning Beneath the Devil’s Cross” has drums kicking in, the bass slithering snake-like, and the song going off. The vocals punish the soul, while the guitar work slices through skin and bone, leading to a blistering big finish. “String Up My Teeth” is an interesting one. Taking on more of a rock n’ roll flavor, the chorus features soulful female backup singers, something you might expect from Roger Waters, and admittedly, it was hard to swallow at first. It sounds fine; it’s just a little strange to hear and absorb. The title cut finishes the set, a 6:46 track that starts with warmer guitars that are split by Hellion’s gruff vocals. Momentum keeps building, as the guitars explode with life, and we head into an unexpected trippy tunnel. The haze thickens, as Hellion’s growls stretch and scar, and everything melts in a molten tributary, with the record heading out into a noise vortex.

Integrity has been one of the most respected, powerful names in extreme music for three decades now, and after all this time, Hellion and his collaborators keep making challenging, relevant statements. “Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Continue” is both a logical next step for the Integrity sound but also an unpredictable turn into exciting new territories. This album grasps you by the neck from the opening moment to the end, and in between, you take a volcanic trip that will leave you devastated.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/INTEGRITY.HT

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords