At the dawn of the 20th century, a young and bewildering English fellow put his pen to paper in depicting a life-altering experience brought about by a journey across Cairo. His reflections metamorphosed into a tenet, based on the principle that egotistical desire is the root cause of negative personal outcome if one wishes to follow the true path in an accomplished existence. The author of this compulsive penmanship was the now-famed occult extraordinaire Aleister Crowley, who went on to complete his Thelemese treatise in 1904. It was in the throes of this psyche-satanic oeuvre that Babalon, the sacred courtesan and true mistress of the Beast, was first envisaged. Since her primary embodiment, the otherwise known Mother of Abominations has been customarily delineated naked, with a chalice at her side, in a fashion consistent with the cover of The Howling Wind’s most recent offering. Given that these are woeful and satanic themes the New York/Portland duo have drawn on as the underpinning concept behind their third album, and that the band’s label, Profound Lore, pitched this release as an “unholy reflection through a kingdom of blood and fire,” Of Babalon was always going to be a listen of the most harrowing nature.
So where does the appeal lie? Why do people purposefully subject themselves to music of such frightful and malicious themes? One answer might be that as the film enthusiast will occasionally turn to the gripping and bloody violence of a bullet-riddled horror film as a source of entertainment, metal — in its fluctuating configurations — has often provided a genuinely tantalizing form of escapism and idiosyncratic, sacrilegious gratification since its earliest incarnations, from the debut efforts of Black Sabbath hence. The ruthless and disquieting properties of human nature are amplified and scrutinized within a genre that calls for an aggressive and charring aesthetic, one that appropriately exemplifies styles and ideas as they are unveiled within both the music and the behavioral appendages that materialize as consequences of the influence these configurations yield. In this instance, the backdrop of a seething temptress enraptured by the sway of Crowley’s dark overlord in bidding the sinister goes beyond the extent of simply “fitting.”
Of Babalon sees The Howling Wind persist with musical strategies that remain conducive to the very core of black metal; blast beats, atonal chord progressions, and disjointed tempo keys are made generously abundant here on tracks such as “Chronozon,” a prime example of how the band adhere to the horrific, gore-ridden, and even pagan themes that are integral to sub-cultures that tangle and wilt around the framework of the music. What Ryan Lipynsky (also of Unearthly Trance and Thralldom) and Tim Call (also of Aldebaran) have crafted here surpasses both the clichéd tedium of generic black metal terrain as well as any negative preconceptions of the band when bearing in mind the musicians’ predominant commitments. To take the album’s centerpiece as an example, “Graal” is at the zenith of the duo’s metal mastery with regard to both prowess and momentum; the track opens with furious pace, torn apart by a stentorian riff that operates as a titanic architectural mechanism in demonstrating the band’s zeal for a genre they undoubtedly triumph over. “Graal” is dark, soaring, and inescapably heavy in every sense. The vocals that Lipynsky buries here are blistering and savage, emphasizing that amplified aggression and means of escapism while illustrating the sheer audio ruthlessness that The Howling Wind are capable of summoning.
Lipynsky’s vocal stylings persist very much in the jugular vein of Nocturno Culto, who is clearly an influence, and his gnarling machinations are exceptionally apt in tackling the subject matter of this bewitching release, which makes light work of conjuring a disturbing reverie. The vocals are decidedly commanding, and their delivery is worth returning to; Lipynsky is able to mesh long and gnashing holler with pernicious tangling shrieks on “The Mountain View,” while his trademark, festering growls remain forever present on “The Seal Upon the Tomb” and “Beast of the Sea” as they curdle with cutting guitars and a double-bass drum nearing machine-gun rapidity. While Call is on excellent form in mastering the percussion here, it is Lipysnky who takes center stage in spearheading bass, rhythm, and lead guitars in addition to his unearthly vocal tirade.
What this informed and peerlessly produced debauchery purports to, then, is an accomplished and concentrated effort that sits comfortably in the fiendish saddle of its genre. As opposed to being a side project with a traditionally satanic disposition, Lipynsky and Call have crafted a fine metal album, which not only showcases their talent as musicians, but also bestows the ferocious and exciting passage of escapism that anyone with even the slightest metal inclination so fondly craves.