There’s often something extra enticing about a posthumous release from a band you’ve never heard. Irish doom rockers Howlin’ Widow, who officially called it a day in 2011, have semi-returned to mark their final recordings being presented as the Exorcised Accidental/Son Shine 7”, a limited-to-250 red vinyl pressing on Freak Flag Recordings in a quality cardboard sleeve with separate lyric sheet. The artwork, striking blues and greens, is drawn by Elaine Ni Cuana, and included on the platter itself are the two titles, each of which clocks in at just over four minutes. The twin guitars of Gary Spence and Jason Hendry lead the way with riffs through both “Exorcised Accidental” and “Son Shine,” while bassist Dave Boyd and Tony Murray thicken and punctuate the upbeat but still classic-minded proceedings, marked by musical touches of British Isle burl à la mid-period Orange Goblin and the raspy vocals of Tom Clarke, also of the revived outfit Bad Boat, whose three-track Lonely Doom 12” finds simultaneous release on Freak Flag. Clarke contributes a memorable chorus to both of these songs, and though he’s largely unipolar in his approach and follows the riff, at a total eight minutes, there isn’t really enough time to either establish redundancy or offer much in the way of variety. Rather, Howlin’ Widow (who are neither to be confused with the harmony-drenched Howlin’ Rain nor the reverb-soaked True Widow) engage straightforward and efficient rocking, getting the listener from point a – no groove – to point b – groove – as quickly as possible, succeeding in making the most of their limited time. “Exorcised Accidental” boasts a bikerly sub-shuffle in the verse that nails home a familiar groove and then opens from its winding tension to a sufficient payoff in the chorus, while Clarke draws a line between early Alabama Thunderpussy and AC/DC with his vocals. There’s little left to the imagination, and Howlin’ Widow will be immediately familiar to seasoned sludge and stoner rockers, but the five-piece offer solid execution of structured songwriting, and “Exorcised Accidental” grooves front to back, the guitars staying forward in the bridge to shift smoothly back into the ending chorus and slowdown.
If “Son Shine” is rowdier and bluesier, it’s also essentially working from the same stylistic base. Clarke affects a more specifically Southern delivery, and the guitars once more blend effectively fuzzed tones with ‘70s swagger. Sign up for stoner rock and sooner or later this is what you’re going to get. I can’t help but be reminded a bit of Axl Rose in the bridge vocals, but the context is different enough and the league of Southern metal singers taking a similar approach wide enough that a direct comparison to Guns ‘n’ Roses wouldn’t really be appropriate. Howlin’ Widow’s lack of pretense prevails as “Son Shine” draws to an unceremonious close, the song wrapping as quickly as it came, cut cold at its very end. For what it’s worth, “Son Shine” would have worked just as easily as the A side of the release, but Clarke’s more unhinged take is well suited to the final thought, which it may very well have been for the band as well. If that’s the case – they’ve booked a gig to celebrate the physical release this January, but don’t seem to have any other plans while Clarke has revitalized Bad Boat – they left off with a professional outing. A recording from Mudd Wallace, captured partly live, and a mastering job by the ubiquitous James Plotkin has ensured a crisp but natural finish, and if that sounds like I’m describing a beer, take that to heart in terms of the band’s aesthetic. I won’t say Exorcised Accidental/Son Shine is filled with potential because Howlin’ Widow aren’t a band anymore, but it does the job you’d ask of a debut single in making me wonder what they might have been able to accomplish on a full-length album, with a little more room to stretch out in terms of their songwriting and overall stylistic base. As it is, the two songs (a third track, “Narcotics and Gnostics” was also recorded and so far as I know has yet to see release) make a decent summation for a decent act who were probably cut short before they really took their approach as far as it could go.
Tags: Belfast, Exorcised Accidental/Son Shine, Freak Flag Recordings, Howlin' Widow, Northern Ireland