"Progressive", in the genre sense, can be a scare word among a small minority of metalheads. Visions of three-minute synth solos and rocket ships to Mars with only clean vocals for company is enough to strike fear into anyone who needs a blast beat for a lullaby. What that means is that excellent debuts often get missed; a bit of scaremongering Howling Giant may have fallen victim to.
Now, pairing stoner rock with prog leanings is not a world-shattering innovation to anyone who has ever listened to music, but Howling Giant have proven multiple times that their strain is worth the price of admission. Debut full-length A Space Between Worlds was a sleeper hit of cosmic proportion, while a wonderful effort that split duties with English stoner cousins Sergeant Thunderhoof had all the makings of a classic too. Now that they are solo travelers of the cosmos again on their sophomore effort, Glass Future, it feels like Howling Giant have something to prove.
That must have been what they thought, at least, because Glass Future is nothing short of a labor of passion, a machine purpose-built for audio pleasure. It's well known you can't throw a rock without hitting a stoner band of any genre that sets out to create an experience. Par for the course. But Howling Giant stand out, and far more so thanks to Glass Future, by how they shape and deliver exactly what that experience is.
Every crunchy riff, every two or three-part harmony, every brooding turn of lyricism – all of it comes together to meticulously paint a shockingly visible outcome. Take "Aluminum Crown", a slow-burn medley of bleak outlook emphasized by its haunting vocal harmonies, that starts to barrel towards an inevitable conclusion in non-too-subtle parallels. Or "Tempest, and The Liars Gateway", a peaceful, psychedelic bit of false security that lures you completely into the firing line for the barrage of "Sunken City" to punish you for it. The end of the world never seemed quite so close as with a pair of headphones on listening to Glass Future.
Oh, there's that, too, by the way. Those expecting a feel-good sensation from their stoner rock are in for a surprise here. Glass Future is, at its heart, a tale of apocalypse on a galactic scale and, amongst the expected fuzzy-wuzzy elements, there is still plenty of occasion to put the hammer down to reflect that. There's an aggression, a visceral attack element present throughout that forces you to pay attention. "Juggernaut" is as rolling battalion as the title suggests, charged with meaty riffs and a simple but effective thumping drum line. The title track, too, has bombast for days, underpinning a need to express just how brutal and meaningless life can be. But, again, it's done with such attention to detail that it's impossible not to be drawn into it; an Orson Welles broadcast with the volume all the way up.
A triumph of evocative vibrations, Glass Future is a prog-dripping delight that simply oozes charm, beauty and that psychedelic X-factor. The Howling Giant soundscape tickles some part of the brain that turns sound into fully realized images; Glass Future tightens all the bolts and streamlines an ethereal experience directly into that particular lobe. Be careful you don't get lost in this one for good, because it's a gorgeous path to travel even at its very darkest.