HellkralliceThe Howling Wind is a two-man black metal outfit. Given that the two members are based out of Portland, Oregon, and New York, it's a safe bet that they're not plying the trade of "pure kvlt black metal." Tellingly, their third full-length Of Babalon was recorded by Colin Marston. Yet I don't think it's fair to place them completely within the realm of what some call "hipster" black metal, either.
Starting at the end, you'll find a cover of Hellhammer's "Horus/Aggressor," and it's quite faithful to the Tom G. Warrior original. It's entirely possible they chose it purely because they're huge fans of Hellhammer. On the other hand, it could be a calculated decision, an effort to guide discussion and opinion on their little contribution to the USBM scene. Either way, I'll bite.
While you won't hear much of the Pacific Northwest here, the band is clearly not insulated from what's going on in Brooklyn. You'll hear it especially in the leads. There's even a major chord or two ("Scaling the Walls"). But they never fly completely off the handle into Krallice excess. Often, the rhythms are unremarkable black metal, and sometimes a bit more Brooklyn-esque, but other times they’re even more primitive ("Abominations and Filth"). It's as if they liked what they heard of the Brooklyn scene, but wanted to pare it down to a simpler, more immediate form--i.e., straight-forward song structures and good old fashioned black metal ugly. That's good news for anyone who loves both Hellhammer and Krallice, or can't get down with the latter because of its near impenetrability.
Sonically, Marston has done a fine job here. I had to turn up the volume a few clicks, but that was clearly due to a healthy respect for dynamic range rather than laziness on his part. The bass is perfectly audible, while the simple growled vocals (and one Warrior grunt) are never overpowering. The drums are especially pleasing, with a totally natural sound that eludes so many producers.
As a result of that blend of modern influence and classic songwriting, the record is one of the catchiest pieces of black metal I've heard in quite some time. As accessible as Watain, but as forward-thinking as any "art-rock" act in the genre. While some have attempted that synthesis before (e.g. Palace of Worms), it's never been done so well. Of Babalon is a fantastic album.
The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Buy Of Babalon