The Howling Wind: Frozen, Dead, Eternal

The Cryosphere being that part of the planet covered in ice (the poles, etc.), one would expect, Into the Cryosphere (Profound Lore), the second album from cross-country black metallers The Howling Wind to sound pretty cold and desolate, and it does at that. I don’t know if it’s a concept album in the narrative sense, but the record is certainly thematic, and the theme is chilly. Five of the seven total tracks have some mention of ice or frost or snow in the title (I count “Will is the Only Fire Under an Avalanche” among that number), and even unto the album’s design work, layout and cover art, the feel is frigid, desolate, and bleak.

Guitarist/bassist/vocalist Ryan Lipynski (Unearthly Trance) from Brooklyn, New York, operates here under the moniker Killusion and Portland, Oregon-based drummer Parasitus Nex is known for his work in Aldebaran and Splatterhouse, but though a country divides them, the two players are inevitably on the same page with Into the Cryosphere, constructing an atmosphere no less vivid for the fact that it’s too cold to support most forms of life. The two players work some of their doom influence into the songs, but the material here is much more geared toward the new breed of psychedelic black metal championed by US acts like Nachtmystium and seemingly founded by Norway’s Enslaved, though in general The Howling Wind seem much more geared toward aural pummel than the avant garde; a type of black metal more Swedish than Norwegian. Still very dark, cavernous, and frozen.

Into the Cryosphere gets off to a curious launch with “The Seething Wrath of a Frigid Soul,” which has some start-stop riffing that, because of mutes in the digital files, sound unnatural and contrary to the instrumentation. This is a minor gripe. Colin Marston of Behold! The Arctopus produced and mastered the album at his The Thousand Caves studio, and though in general I think he did a good job allowing enough space and breadth to the mix, those pauses are something I’ve continued to stumble over in repeat listening. The slower, more doomed “Teeth of Frost,” feels more natural, if utterly inhuman in its style and execution.

The album proceeds to drop temperature until the slowing heart has finally frozen. “Obscured Pyramid” (we can only assume it’s buried under snow) is an ambient interlude on the way to the thrashing “Ice Cracking in the Abyss,” and the aforementioned “Will is the Only Fire Under an Avalanche” grooves at a slightly more middling pace, but is no less brutal or gripping. Lipynski’s vocals are unvaried growls throughout Into the Cryosphere, as it seems none of the experimentation with clean singing brought of late into Unearthly Trance need apply here. Parasitus Nex’s drumming is mostly straightforward, adaptable to the changes presented in riff or song structure, and though they probably could have just written it off as the perils of playing in a duo, they were right to include bass in the recording, as without it these songs would sound thin and like every other half-assed lo-fi black metal band out there. If The Howling Wind has gone far enough to make the extra effort, it shows in the finished product.

“Impossible Eternity,” with its squibbly guitar and whispered vocals, might be my favorite of the tracks on Into the Cryosphere, because it’s where you really start to understand that there’s no getting out alive, that all hope is lost and that there isn’t going to be any ultimate salvation in these songs. There’s a sadness to the progression of the guitars made insistent by the kick drum, as though it’s mourning itself. This woeful feel – only enhanced with the song’s gradual decay – sets us all up for suckers as the crashes and screams of “A Dead Galaxy Mirrored in an Ice Mirage” call us back to attention for The Howling Wind’s final and perhaps heaviest (at least by the traditional “fast and hard” definition) statement. It’s only 2:25, but that seems plenty of time for “A Dead Galaxy Mirrored in an Ice Mirage” to get its point across.

Although on an elemental level they’re not really perverting black metal into anything it’s never been before, The Howling Wind nonetheless come out of Into the Cryosphere sounding remarkably individual. Perhaps it’s the unabashed energy they put into their tackling of common blackened themes (coldness, darkness, death, etc.) where some others might try to skirt around the issues stylistically, but whatever the case, by the time Into the Cryosphere is done, you’ll be able to see your breath even if it’s 100 degrees outside. It’s one of the most complete and fervent exercises in atmospheric construction I’ve come across this year; a clear vision realized.

The Howling Wind, “Teeth of Frost”

The Howling Wind on MySpace

Profound Lore

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