Generation of Vipers, Howl and Filth: The Slow Burning of Ritual

Beginning right from the low-end percussive rumble of “Ritual,” an overwhelming fullness of sound is among the greatest assets working in favor of Howl and Filth, the third long-player from Tennessee post-doomers Generation of Vipers. Like their two prior outings, 2005’s Grace and 2007’s Dead Circle, Howl and Filth comes courtesy of the band’s own Red Witch Recordings, and I’ll admit it’s my first encounter with the trio, who make a solid first impression thanks to encompassing distortion and blown-out but perfectly swallowed vocals, mixed low under the guitars and bass by Converge’s Kurt Ballou, who also engineered the recording for Howl and Filth’s six tracks. The album seems structured for a vinyl side A/side B divide, the third cut “All of this is Mine” (2:55) being essentially an interlude that positions the band atmospherically leading into the record’s second half, but it works on CD as well, the Anthony Couri (Minsk) artwork no less striking in its sparseness in its digipak incarnation. That bleak, foreboding image makes a fine complement for the otherworldly darkness Generation of Vipers emit, offering a kind of Godflesh mechanicism in the bass of Travis Kammeyer that works to contrast the occasional excursions into melody from guitarist/vocalist Joshua “Asa” Holt. And of course, the rumble mentioned previously wouldn’t be possible without the excellent tom work of B.J. Graves, formerly of A Storm of Light’s touring lineup.

There’s a lot about Howl and Filth that’s going to be familiar, at least on a superficial level, to those who’ve followed the growth, sundry divergences within and capsizing of post-metal, but it’s worth highlighting the excellent treatment Ballou gives to Holt’s harsh vocals, using the growls and shouts to their full atmospheric potential as more than a mere expression of rage or post-modern disaffection, but as an instrument capable of coinciding with and even enhancing the guitars, bass and drums (periodic synth shows up as well, as on the piano-and-whisper-driven “All of this is Mine”). Holt’s guitar sounds that much louder for its position relative to the vocals, and likewise, Graves’ drumming that much more propulsive and Kammeyer’s bass thicker. It’s an easy mistake that’s often made to push all singing to the fore of a track, but no question that “Silent Shroud,” which builds on the momentum “Ritual” establishes at the very front, is stronger in ambience for the instrumentation’s lead position. As Holt moves to further prominence toward the end of the track, the drama is made palpable by his sheer ability to cut through the controlled chaos surrounding, so that as “All of this is Mine” offers momentary respite before “Eternal” kicks off the second half of Howl and Filth, the breather is well justified.

More than a full two minutes shorter than “Silent Shroud” at 4:08, “Eternal” is easy to read as a more compressed version structurally of what Generation of Vipers are doing across the rest of the album. I don’t know if I’d actually make that argument, but it has a catchier bounce than some of the other material on Howl and Filth, and feels more like a traditional song than, say, “Ritual” or “Slow Burn,” which immediately follows. Graves gives a highlight performance percussion-wise, matching the cyclical feel put into Holt’s guitar and Kammeyer’s bass with tom runs leading back into the constant kick of the verse. The song strips away some of the atmospherics and works up an effective intensity to become a highlight, but as Kammeyer’s low end begins “Slow Burn” dominating far-back blasted screams from Holt, it’s clear where the band’s strengths lie. “Slow Burn” lives up to its name by and large as regards pacing, and is probably the band’s most doomed groove on Howl and Filth, despite a long break toward the middle that challenges Graves to hold the song together – he does. In the later minutes of the cut’s total eight, there is a stretch of abrasive feedback and hits that shows attention to detail and will on the part of the three-piece to not just be heavy in terms of thick tones and screaming, but in everything they do. It’s one of the album’s least enjoyable sections and also one of its most effective, and the payoff at the end of the track is more potent for it. If they’re brutal anywhere, it’s there.

And it sounds strange to say, but there’s something about closer “The Misery Coil” that’s positively… toe tapping. It’s ridiculous to think, given the bubblegum pop connotations behind the phrase, but the stomp pulled off by Graves, Kammeyer and Holt when they all come together around the central figure riff is irresistible, and Graves’ tom hits so heavy and almost cascading one to the next, the rhythm is hypnotic. It’s subtle, but Generation of Vipers is doing something different on the track, as Holt’s vocals seem more present over the riff as well than they were earlier on “Ritual” or “Silent Shroud.” They close in mostly-expected fashion with layers of feedback that fade into an echo and about 15 seconds of silence. Howl and Filth is certainly more of its genre than in defiance of it, but Generation of Vipers do well in establishing a personality separate from their influences and offsetting some of what might otherwise be familiar with a crushing approach. Ultimately, the album is dark in a metallic sense, but still forward thinking enough to be tagged progressive in its way, and greatly benefitted by Ballou’s production. As my introduction to the band, Howl and Filth leaves a more than favorable first impression for Generation of Vipers as a band who has a firm grip on their sound and knows exactly how to wrench the most from varied aspects of heaviness. It may not win over those who disparage post-metal outright, but those overly concerned with the court of public opinion probably don’t make music this punishing in the first place.

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2 Responses to “Generation of Vipers, Howl and Filth: The Slow Burning of Ritual”

  1. matt says:

    one of my current favorites……crushing heaviness.

  2. Jeff says:

    Travis is badass! Check out his other band Ocoai, where he plays guitar. A very cool instrumental band. Kinda like a heavy Pink Floyd vibe.

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