This might be Integrity’s best album.
I know that sounds hyperbolic, and I can’t blame anyone for eye-rolling at the statement. Usually when a writer says something like that about a new album from an established band, he or she is usually trying to make a profound statement or is simply being trying too hard to be nice to the band. Maybe there’s some hidden message to the band there: I love you guys and will act as an unofficial salesperson for you if you give me the social status of Being Friends With People in BandsTM.
But Integrity’s Dwid Hellion doesn’t need my approval, and wouldn’t care if I tarred and feathered Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume as the worst album ever. He’s too focused on what’s important. He’s too busy trying to take his dark view of humanity and the world and craft it into a worthwhile form of expression. And he and his current line-up of bandmates have done a fantastic job on this latest album.
Integrity formed in the late 1980’s, long after hardcore’s punk-rooted first wave had died out. At the time, the hardcore scene was dominated by the straight-edge and youth crew scenes, along with the metal-infused sound of crossover. Although in some metal circles it’s thought of as a homogenous and predictable entity, hardcore has always been very diverse. Though they share a lot in common, bands like Gorilla Biscuits, S.O.D, D.R.I., Sick of it All and The Cro-Mags can all be distinguished from one another. Likewise, Integrity’s 1991 debut, Those Who Fear Tomorrow is a unique beast unto itself. Sure, the whole point of crossover was to mix thrash and hardcore, and The Cro-Mags hinted at what was to come on The Age of Quarrel, but Integrity channeled something that no other band could. There’s a level of intelligence and mysticism on “In Contrast of Sin” and “Judgement Day” that goes beyond staid pronouncements typical in a lot of post-youth crew hardcore (e.g. “I thought you were my friend, but then you changed!” or “Stand up for the scene, always be true!”).
Since then, the band has created some astoundingly dark music. Some leans closer to hardcore with metal elements (e.g. Systems Overloaded and Humanity is the Devil), while others go the other way around (e.g. To Die For and The Blackest Curse). Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume is a great addition to this already great catalog. However, it’s so much more than that. It’s their most consistently awesome album ever, from the memorable songs to the HM-2 pedal-like crunch of the guitars (big fan of Dwid's Gustave Dore-like artwork as well).
It’s not simply a continuation of the last two records either, the band has brought in some old-school heavy metal influences on songs like “Die With Your Boots On” (no, it’s not a cover of the Maiden tune) and “String Up My Teeth” (a tambourine on an Integrity song!?!?!). This lends another dimension and extra coloring to the band’s finely honed style. The guitar harmonies on “Serpent of the Crossroads” reminded me of Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets-era Metallica in a very refreshing way as well.
However, there’s still plenty of punishing numbers on Howling. “Blood Sermon” is a brutal and foreboding storm of riffs and solos, while the punishing hardcore on “I Am the Spell” is eerily reminiscent of “Incarnate 365.”
And here’s where I’m supposed to provide some qualifying statement of where the album goes wrong and prevents it from being perfect. “Reece Mews” fits perfectly well with the album, but isn’t the best track on its own. Otherwise, “Unholy Salvation of Sabbatei Zevi” drags a bit, but I think this was intentional. And again, it’s mournful guitar work fits well as a centerpiece of the album in general.
Howling is a magnificent triumph. If you like dark, heavy music of any kind, you must listen to this album.
Favorite Songs: “Blood Sermon,” “I Am the Spell,” “Serpent of the Crossroads,” “String Up My Teeth”