I was literally nauseous with anticipatory anxiety as I downloaded the files for Integrity's first new full-length in years—and Relapse Records debut—back in early-May. Integrity has been my favorite band since 1995, and Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume marks the proper debut of the group's latest lineup, which—in addition to drummer Joshua Brettell (Ilsa)—now includes longtime Integrity sidekick and superfan Domenic Romeo (Pulling Teeth, A389 Recordings, etc.), and that's quite an intriguing prospect. I've not yet heard the bonus tracks, nor seen the artwork or lyrics—important facets when it comes to the work of the genre-defining institution that is Integrity (a new interview, posted yesterday by Bandcamp, offers some insight into the album's conceptual background)—and I'm still processing the nearly 48-minute, 11-song core album. So, this is really more of an initial track-by-track "reaction" than a "review," pieced together from notes jotted down weeks ago during my initial eagerly-awaited spins...
"Fallen to Destroy/Blood Sermon"
Listeners will likely recognize "Fallen to Destroy" from the band's 2017 Tour Trailer video, posted back in April. In context, the piece provides an epically intense lead-in to the near-black metal aesthetic of the gnashing high-speed tremolo picking that kicks off "Blood Sermon"—eventually giving way to some of the patented gut-punch power chord rhythms upon which the Integrity foundation was born. However, you'll discern more subtle layering and guitar harmonies herein—certainly something that was evident in Dom's work with Pulling Teeth. I have to say, this back-to-back combo sets the tone right up front that this lineup is on fucking fire, putting forth the band's tightest and most fully-produced output in some time.
"Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame"
Wow. Yeah. The short, furious, no nonsense burst of "Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame" builds from similar groundwork as "Blood Sermon," but sees the high-speed riffing taking a far more thrash-driven turn; alongside a straightforward and powerful vocal delivery from Dwid. Thus far there's a swirling undercurrent of chaos to the record, but nothing that flies off the rails.
"I am the Spell"
It's fitting that the album's first single should appeal to longtime fans, opening with a hard-hitting midpaced breakdown and—like the preceding tracks—littered with loads of what I have dubbed "Melnick-ian leads" and surging power chords. However, as much as Dom is an A+ student of the Integrity school, it is very fucking clear that this material has no interest in following a prototype. Yes, there are certainly nods to the roots (filtered through more of a To Die For-era vibe), but it is critically important to point out that there is obviously a grander vision at work.
"Die With Your Boots On"
Holy shit! As I was saying, here we go: this is an entirely new direction for the band. As soon as that catchy, fist-pumping melodic groove dropped, I realized that it had taken about three tracks for me to settle in here—perfect timing to be thrown for a loop by a tune that had me half-thinking about Iron Maiden even before I saw its song title. The first thing I wrote down the very first time I played this track was, "Motörhead covering G.I.S.M. covering Maiden!?" I was only later informed that this is, in fact, a tribute to Lemmy Kilmister. Totally unexpected and killer song, and one that certainly signals the album shifting into more ambitious and experimental waters...
"Serpent of the Crossroads"
The first of three consecutive tracks falling in the seven-minute range, "Serpent of the Crossroads" boasts a slower, more melodic, slightly gritty "clean" intro. Some of the album's most memorable dual guitar harmonies present themselves amidst this pulsingly midpaced dirge, paired with partially-"sung" vocals in Dwid's immediately recognizable and one-of-a-kind style. Again, not even close to a throwback, but I definitely hear some parallels to "Millennial Reign" here, which is no small compliment.
"Unholy Salvation of Sabbatai Zevi"
Based on title alone, the longest track, "Unholy Salvation of Sabbatai Zevi," implies that there may be more grandiose pathways within—an implication bolstered by the piece opening with organ leading toward a dirgey, almost Solitude Aeturnus-like run. Sitar then enters alongside the vocals, which morph into an intense sermon-esque delivery two-thirds of the way through—immediately reminiscent of the classic Psywarfare live set opening for Masonna and Merzbow circa 1996, complete with "release the fiend within" lyrical references. If that doesn't get a certain faction of fans grinning ear-to-ear, I don't know what will! (And, damn, does this only intensify my urge to see the album's complete lyrics and artwork!)
"7 Reece Mews"
Named after the address of Francis Bacon's studio, "7 Reece Mews" is the album's most wildly diverse composition. The piece begins with the type of raw, metallic scrapes of percussion heard in Dwid's work with Vermapyre amidst an eerie acoustic run, eventually rising and giving way to some big, flanged chords that create a Danzig 4P vibe. The vocals alternate between Dwid's incensed screams and his half-whispered narrative delivery throughout. The real brain-benders come later, as just past the midway point the music shifts into a warped, damn near Beatles-y riff that transitions into a droning slide guitar lead over huge distorted chords that have kind of an Oasis sound; and about a minute later they create more of a Southern-tinged sludge vibe alongside the next solo. That description probably reads as completely outlandish, but that's how these gone-in-a-flash excursions hit my ears—firmly highlighting the unpredictable and untethered nature of the album as a whole.
"Burning Beneath the Devils Cross"
"Burning Beneath the Devils Cross" marks a shift into the album's final movement. Perhaps the most "typically" structured Integrity track, its succinct and to the point nature brings to mind the aesthetic of Humanity is the Devil or Seasons in the Size of Days. That being said, there's actually something about the rhythm section's plodding gallop that moves into territory that is, once more, not a mere repeat of past victories.
"String Up My Teeth"
After a relatively unassuming intro, "String Up My Teeth" returns to the memorable style of groove heard in "Die With Your Boots On." At least it seems that way, until the tambourine and harmonized female backup vocals (which take more of a full-on gospel turn during the track's final moments) appear. Yep, you read that right. And, yep, I'm good with it. I'm not gonna deny that it's a bit of a head-scratcher, but the shit's catchy, I can't lie. There's also a total John Christ feel to the pinch harmonics during the chorus, and the opening of the solo kinda sounds like Ace Frehley, too. Crazy!
"Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume"
The closing title track again pushes seven minutes, and once more starts out with the staple Integrity sound—probably leaning closer to the landmark Those Who Fear Tomorrow than anything else herein. Like the album as a whole, though, there's just more. More layering, more parts—a real rise and fall to the transitions and segues. The sermon-ish vocal delivery even briefly returns during the latter chunk; this time with a more aggressive, snake-handler aesthetic...
As previously stated, this assessment is, of course, incomplete. After several listens my head is still spinning—fully aware that my giddy fanboy enthusiasm renders this initial appraisal somewhat surface, that there are details I've missed, and additional points of interest and insight that the lyrics and artwork will provide. For now, I can simply state that—forever unconcerned with creative restraints or "popular" opinion—with Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume, Integrity has crafted an album that reflects bits and pieces of everything accomplished throughout the band's nearly 30-year discography, and still extends beyond. There's truly something to be found for every Integrity fan, if they're ready for it...
- Relapse Records (2xLP, CD, cassette, etc.)