American death/black metal duo Howls of Ebb has been quite active since the band formed in 2012, releasing their debut album Vigils of the 3rd Eye in 2014 and a follow-up EP called The Marrow Veil in 2015. Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows constitutes their sophomore album and its “limbonic death hymns”, as the compositions on this record are called, are the first instance in which Howls of Ebb really intrigued me with their music.
The band doesn’t leave you any time to prepare yourself as the record starts off with The 6th Octopul’th Grin. Climbing, buzzing and whaling guitars ride on the torrent of rolling and hectic drums as the schizophrenic vocals spew forth like a fountain of pestilent curses. The band really nails the wild parts of the song and they do so pretty consistently on this album.
Whenever the band lets lose, everything goes out of control and the weirdness and otherworldliness of the unfathomable that these songs are about, begins to materialize. However, the atmospheric, low-key sections tend to fall short quite a number of times, something that is already present on the opening track.
The band quickly picks up the pace after they let everything settle down a bit and bring back the dark and fascinating parts that I described above, but Howls of Ebb do not always present such interesting ideas or enjoyable songwriting on the following tracks. Maat Mons’ Fume and the album closer, The Apocryphalic Wick, are the only instances in which I thought that the atmospheric and slower parts of the songs were actually done quite well, with siren-like guitars in the background, creating a feeling of crisis on the former and gongs and singing bowls along with ambient sounds evoking a shamanistic and ritualistic atmosphere on the latter. Another aspect of Maat Mons’ Fume that I really enjoyed, was how the band transitioned from the first stage of the song to the second around the halfway point. The vocals fade out in a trance-like moan and the guitars start to creep up in the mix before the drums join in and all the instruments pick back up together.
The music slightly settles down over the course of the first four tracks and my enjoyment diminishes a bit with each passing song, before we arrive at Gaunt Vertigo, a short acoustic interlude that manages to weave a mysterious atmosphere. In my eyes, Gaunt Vertigo is, both in sound and atmosphere, very reminiscent of the acoustic parts on Morbus Chron’s 2014 album Sweven. The two following songs unfortunately do not manage to live up to the opening song for me, but Gaunt Vertigo was definitely a well placed diversion that created a moment of respite in Cursus Impasses’ 42 minute long runtime.
As for the sound of this album, I have to say that I really like the buzzing guitar sound and light, fleet-footed drumming. The vocals are often well layered and create the desired impression of weirdness and abnormality, which I think is fitting since the style of music that Howls of Ebb are going for requires atmosphere and effect more than technicality or intelligibility.
Overall, Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows is, despite occasionally being a bit uneventful, a very solid second album with a strong vision that Howls of Ebb mostly manage to manifest.