Wait, Howls of Ebb broke up? The hell is up with that?!
The dissolution of one of extreme metal's most promising young bands is a damned shame, but we can rest easy knowing that Howls of Ebb is going out on a fantastically high note. With Gangrene Edges/Voiidwarp might be a split release, but the material within is anything but a half-measure. The format doesn't really matter anyway, since even a cursory listen makes a strong argument that this is one of the best metal releases—split, full-length or otherwise—of the year thus far. And it only gets better on subsequent listens.
There's plenty to praise in the split's three Howls of Ebb tracks, but I'd be doing a disservice by not lauding Khthoniik Cerviiks', the German duo that comprises the latter half of the release, monolithic performance early in this review. Howls of Ebb certainly has the better name recognition of the two bands here, but Khthoniik Cerviiks' material runs for a fair bit longer than the former's songs and offers some of With Gangrene Edges/Voiidwarp's finest moments. Regardless of which band you're tuning in for, there's little room to complain when the music is this good.
Khthoniik Cerviiks' "Spiiral Spiire Stiigmata," clocking in at a staggering 12-plus minutes, dominates the split—which lasts for an impressive 48 minutes—in both creative scope and length. It isn't one of those long tracks that fritters away its considerable runtime with overlong buildups, extended periods of ambiance or other such nonsense. No, what we have here is 744 seconds of largely unadulterated blackened death madness. Explosive riffing, tuned to suitably grim and necro levels, tears the song open in wildly noisy and chaotic fashion, though there's plenty of diversity and subtle progressions throughout much of the song. While there's a gradual slowdown near the halfway point, it's less of a break and more of an opportunity for the duo to flex their considerable technical skills outside the song's otherwise hyper-aggressive pace. Aside from some unexpected but genuinely incredible melodic soloing around the eight-minute mark, this is largely a gauntlet in the truest sense of the word, full of raspy growling, raw shredding and everything else Voiidwarp's macabre cover art would suggest.
The Voiidwarp part of the split might be a surprise standout—"Come to the Subeth's" dazzling latter half briefly boasts a bit of inexplicable Demilich-gone-black-metal-style riffing that is as phenomenal as it sounds—but the Howls of Ebb tracks are no less impressive. The band is exiting the industry on a commendably wicked note: The With Gangrene Edges portion of the release is full of the same alien, off-kilter and wonderfully original metal that made the band an immediate attention-warrenter when they first hit the scene a few years back.
As noted, Voiidwarp offers many of the release's strongest moments. But hardly all of them. All too many bands that are billed as blackened death metal can often to boiled down to "bland death metal with some high shrieks occasionally thrown in." As expected, Howls of Ebb continues to chock that stereotype out the window.
The band takes the best elements from old school death metal and black metal and twists them together to create cold, evil soundscapes not quite like anything else out there. "Babel's Catechism," which opens the Howls of Ebb side of the split, displays these traits most clearly and is another major highlight. "Catchy" is about the last adjective you'd normally use to describe this kind of music, but the track is full of riffs with legitimate grooves. Just don't get the wrong idea: It's as misanthropic as it is catchy and Howls of Ebb's swan song work brandishes the band's trademark ghoulish, deathlike vocals and pounding, grisly riffs that makes their breakup all the more bittersweet.
"Babel's Catechism" displays these traits best, but the band's following two tracks certainly aren't far behind. "Bellowed" is a particularly grueling affair, with its manic pace and crushing guitar work. It also features some of the split's best bass work—high praise, given that the instrument is enjoys considerable prominence throughout the 46 minutes of material on display—which becomes positively mesmerizing as the track nears its apocalyptic end.
It's all mesmerizing, from start to finish. Both of these bands are fairly underground, even by extreme metal standards, and there's a fair chance that this will end up being one of 2017's criminally overlooked releases. Don't make the mistake of letting it pass by unlistened. It's hard to reasonably imagine a better sendoff for Howls of Ebb and for those just being introduced to Khthoniik Cerviiks…Talk about an incredible first impression.