Howls of Ebb - _Vigils of the 3rd Eye_
(I, Voidhanger Records, 2014)
by: Chaim Drishner (8.5 out of 10)
The debut album by American Howls of Ebb strikes a chord with the lovers of heavily jazz-influenced death metal, rather than those who are into the pure, classic expressions of old-school death metal. The guitars are totally fuzzy and strangely spacious, and the arrangements zone into free jazz realms, with a bit of experimentalism and avantgarde psychedelia.

Unlike label mates Serpent Ascending, who offer an articulate and dark form of old-school macho death metal that's well written but rather devoid of any additives, _Vigils of the 3rd Eye_ is virtually the opposite: it aspires to break free from the boundaries of death metal and use it only as a platform for the other elements introduced into the mix. The improvisation-like playing methods, the unorthodox rhythms and the weird sound given to the instruments all aid in manipulating the listener into thinking it is a metal album, whereas in truth it is much more -- or something else altogether.

We're not talking about Atheist's kind of jazz metal here, or Cynic's, or Aghora's; we're talking about a dark flavored musical piece that uses fuzziness, rhythmic freedom, cryptic passages and unorthodox songwriting, the synergistic effect of which only mildly corresponds with metal music as we know it, despite the fact you wouldn't find it too hard to dub _Vigils of the 3rd Eye_ as a metallic composition in its entirety; kind of the same sentiment conjured when listening to Gorguts' _Obscura_; and indeed, the latter does come to mind while _Vigils of the 3rd Eye_ rotates, despite it being a couple of notches less intense and a lot slower than the above mentioned Gorguts' timeless masterpiece . Nevertheless, both albums share the same acute unorthodox framework and sound despite the differences when juxtaposed.

An echoing, hollow, rolling thunder of hum and reverb that totally fucks your mind, a degenerate low growler with a smooth, colorless voice that conjures esoterica and foul ceremonial theatrics, the whole charade crawls or hurries or anything in between, among the ritualistic hymns, the cacophonous beauty, the discordance or the harmonious sections, all relating, intersecting and overlapping each other, pushed forward by a lead guitar that heavily uses some kind of wah-wah effect, accentuated yet very basic bass lines and some magnificent tremolo picking solos that sound as if keyboards were used to create this sublime atmospheric darkness.

You'd think, while rummaging superficially through the tracks, that this is a monolithic slab of doom-drenched old-school death metal with an atonal undercurrent, but rather unspectacular an effort; but careful listening would reveal deeper dimensions, versatility and quirky melody throughout the recording, and as such you'll find it much more varied than you might have thought it to be.

_Vigils of the 3rd Eye_ is to death metal what Ride for Revenge's _The King of Snakes_ is to black metal; in other words, its ritualistic essence exploits the building blocks of that particular style of metal, arranges them so that they become the backbone of the musical aesthetics, but in the process they are rearranged in such a meticulous helter skelter manner that ultimately the music becomes something totally different -- and something that you might not even have heard before. In that regard, you'd want to think of a marriage between Ride for Revenge's aforementioned purely ritualistic experience and doom oddity Aarni's plodding strangeness to get a grip on the well calculated turmoil captured so well on _Vigils of the 3rd Eye_.

Both booklet and cover art present a compelling, colorful depiction of Stygian vistas and nightmarish visages of childhood terrors, the effigies of grinning clowns from hell coming to drag your innocent soul into their dwelling in the bottomless pits of the earth (or in the cold realms of their domains beyond the stars), and the sentiments arising are on par with those very chromatic images.

Fans of any given genre of dark, ceremonial music, be it purely ritualistic, metallic or gothic horror, are more than encouraged to listen to this wonderful circus from hell, unleashing one enigmatic riff after the other, compelling you with its jazzy, dark and warm fuzz and dissonance to join this very circus of the damned.

_Vigils of the 3rd Eye_ is definitely among the most interesting recordings the underground has blessed us with in recent years; an intriguing, otherworldly experience from head to toe, charged with a singular black magic vibe and occult esoterica of the most depraved form -- and sound...


(article published 14/4/2014)

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