Commentators have been thus far quick to describe Howls of Ebb simply as “unique” in many cases. The black/death metal duo, who go by the respective pseudonyms Zee-Luuuvft-Huund (Patrick Brown) and Roteen’ Blisssss (Zach Wells), are indeed unique, and Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows sounds more distinct than its predecessors. Yet, commentators are also quick to compare their findings to one another, and two surprising names that have come up through this process are Portal and even Primus.
Brown has been pulling death metal and black metal together for some time—that is, until he became bored with it and quit music for a decade only to return to realize the creation of Howls of Ebb. The disputed aural intersection of black and death metal is a bond of hyper-articulate musicianship and atmospheric murk. The pseudo-genre defines Teitenblood’s Death, with its violent air that sits so comfortably in this sonic hand-holding. Howls of Ebb go a step further, however, pushing into technical death metal territory. Cursus Impasse absolutely smacks of tech-death pioneers Atheist and the Floridians’ taste for abstruse jazz grooves on their debut, Piece of Time. That kinship with Atheist is caught in Howls of Ebb’s own caustic philosophy. Brown’s lyricism has an abstract rigor, albeit more user-friendly than Blut Aus Nord’s wordiness, for example.
There’s a theme of corporeal decay Amidst Brown’s lyrical obscurities. Take “limbonic death hymns,” for example. That’s how Brown and Wells describe Howls of Ebb. There’s a gist to this description connecting human appendages to the guitar or drumstick as phantom limbs. Death hymns indeed; Brown and Wells don’t beat around the bush with what they’re doing. This is death metal, and the hymn celebrates those “Sons of Onan, apocrypha philistines… (who) lay down to molder” on “Cabals of Molder.” Or on “Maat Mons’ Fume,” “Let the strobing obsidian hole invite that (which) escapes within, for inside this magnanimous magma lies a dear and close red veil that disorients all men…” This results in venerating lyrics summed up in the cover of Cursus Impasse, Agostino Arrivabene’s painting Theoin II—an alchemical riff on heavy metal painter Paolo Girardi.
Brown’s lyrics are interesting, but his voice is familiar. His oration has terse dictatorial flourishes that fall into a slurry of rapping and muttered grunts. As a vocalist, Brown keeps with the deluge that is typical of metal.
“Cabals of Molder” is Cursus Impasse’s single and for good reason. The track spotlights the band’s ceasing cacophony and playing with quiet. “Cabals of Molder” isn’t silent but lurks in manic tension. At two minutes, the guitar fades, allowing submerged notes to rise. Brown is a percussive guitarist and the overdub sounds like a noisemaker. He layers struts of an orchestral timbre one at a time, rippling outward. Wells beats about structuring Brown’s eloquence. “Cabals of Molder” breaks the assault, holding the listener.
Cursus Impasse winds its aggression, snaring at the start with “The 6th Octopul’th Grin” to a more traditional thrash in “Submlinal Lock – A Precursor to Violence.” The variety of guitar work doesn’t lend to summary. Brown is pleasurably verbose, from the incessant twang that clasps ad libbed squeals to clangorous tones and abrasive walls of sound. Howls of Ebb are clearly unique. Though Cursus Impasse is not incomparable, it shines with Brown’s virtuosity preened by Wells. The years honing these skills lend to compositional ingenuity. Perhaps it is because of all that guitar talent that the vocals end up being on the backburner. And Cursus Impasse is slanted towards death metal; the balance between black and death is off, but Brown sounds like he’s taken the side of the latter. So be it, because Cursus Impasse does more with two musicians than most metal ensembles could ever muster.
01) The 6th Octopul’th Grin
02) Cabals of Molder
03) Maat Mons’ Fume
04) 7 Ascetic Cinders, 8 Dowries of gA’nOm
05) Gaunt Vertigo
06) The Subliminal Lock – A Precursor to Vengeance
07) The Apocryphalic Wick
Written by: Colin L.
I, Voidhanger (Italy) / IVR058 / CD, Digital
Nuclear War Now! (United States) / ANTI-GOTH316 / 12″ LP
Caligari Records (United States) / 045 / Tape
Black Metal / Death Metal