Review: Howls – No Living [EP]

It’s almost become ironic how in Britain’s musical landscape, at least over the last 5-10 years, most (I stress, most, not all) hardcore punk bands all conform to the same tried and tested method of a 4/5-piece with an overly-aggressive frontman. Howls break away from that mould. Brighton’s own Howls consists of only three, Will Richards (guitar), Ollie Shead (bass), and Sam Barnes (drums). Only having one guitarist could seem surprising for a band like this, but it is the sharing of the vocal duties between the trio that is the real surprise. But don’t worry, the burden doesn’t soften them, as Howls prove in their latest EP, the coarse and at times volatile No Living.

The EP reminds me a little of Gallows, especially when the riffs kick in, but the overall sound seems a little more murky. The vocals are often more reminiscent of good ol’ fashioned punk – they’ve been described as larynx-lacerating hardcore, I think that’s fair – but they still manage to fit in some of the more catchy shouted lyrics, which should be a great bonus for crowd involvement. With only the one guitarist, the bass plays a more prominent role than in a lot of modern punk and hardcore as well, which helps Howls carve out more of an individual sound, mixing up traditional punk and modern hardcore with tracks flowing from explosive riffs to slow but crunching heavy grooves.

Opening track ‘Rest Well’ screams to life with an example of the aforementioned ferocious riffs paired with some head-slamming drum-pounding. When the vocals screech in, the song really comes together. It’s fast, there’s intricacy, but more importantly it’s completely fucking brutal. Lovely.

Title track ‘No Living’ also houses a peach of a riff, but it is a touch simpler and noticeable slower. That’s no criticism, it’s still ‘fast’; besides, a bit of variety is appreciated. The track shows a bit more artistry with some decipherable structure and varied sections of sound. The vocals, particularly nicely done across the chorus, gain a lot from being threefold. Whereas it could easily sound confused, jumbled, and chaotic, it provides complexity and a layered texture of sound. Pretty neat stuff.

The third and penultimate track ‘Black Dust’ brings with it an eruption of raw emotion which flares-up to form a corrosive wall of anger and vigour to slam against. The energy is ruthless and infectious; it’ll be a pleasure to experience live, that’s for sure. Final track ‘Ides’ almost made me think that Howls had forgotten the winning formula evident in the former three tracks, but they were just being a tricky bunch. ‘Ides’ doesn’t explode like the grenade on your face that the first three tracks form, but they haven’t lost their touch, the slower start allows the upsurge of sound to creep up on you, before destroying you one last time.

Howls combine threefold throat shredding vocals, raw riffs, and destructive drumming into an EP overflowing with aggression and potential. One of the best compliments I can give them is that they definitely sound like more than three guys. Seriously impressive stuff.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!