With the release of their first LP, "Full of Hell", back in 2010, the members of the Providence, Rhode Island's HOWL tipped their hand as card-carrying members of the increasingly large and, to be fair, immeasurably eclectic club we shall hereby call the "Sons of MASTODON".
Hardly something to be ashamed of, this "club" includes bands as diverse as the progressively oriented INTRONAUT to the increasingly mainstream BARONESS, each of whom has obviously found their own measure of success by mining and then imaginatively expanding upon a particular dimension of the MASTODON sound with their own considerable talents.
HOWL's case for accomplishing this is nowhere near as sturdy yet, but then 2013's "Bloodlines" is only their second full-length attempt at developing their own chosen dimension: a dimension that deals in brutish but athletic modern sludge, which, as with the opposite coast's BISON B.C., the quartet seem well equipped to elevate out of the primordial muck by force of a preternatural riff-wringing ability.
Sure enough, opening riff-factory, "Attrition", comes out cruising for a bruising, yet lets fluttering lead guitars spin circles overhead; "Midnight Eyes" breaks out power-drilling thrash tattoos before succumbing to wah-wah-spiked lumbering doom; and "Demonic" offers helpings of the same before turning on a dime by way of a bona fide New Wave of British Heavy Metal-styled breakdown.
Next, "One Last Nail" boosts the overall melodic quotient with part-time cleaner vocals and frankly mixed results, but "Down So Low" quickly makes up for its failings with a baritone-assisted swerve down south into NOLA/DOWN swamps - a trip that sees HOWL confidently wrestling with the 'gators (or "fattening frogs for snakes", as Sonny Boy Williamson would say).
Mind you, we're only halfway through, but "Bloodlines"' second "side" does a more than fair job of hanging onto one's attention when certain songs finally break out of the three-minute limit imposed by HOWL thus far - thus allowing for the hypnotic speed-picking adorning the end of "Your Hell Begins", the psychedelic leads harassing the serial killer described by "With a Blade" (which later becomes "doom central"), and mesmerizing arc of the deliciously doleful closing number, "Embrace Your Nerve".
Still we'd be lying if we called "Bloodlines" a genuine tour de force because HOWL's songs, while consistently compelling, can't quite match the sheer scope of revelation and pure imagination achieved by some of the other bands mentioned earlier on in this review.
Again, they could well be on their way to that, given time to grow over ensuing albums, but for now "Bloodlines" is almost more enticing for what it promises than what it delivers - as entertaining as that happens to be.