Integrity is important, but that statement alone is negligible given the band’s near 30 years as both progenitors and continuous pioneers of metallic and Holy Terror-inspired hardcore. Dwid Hellion, the original line-up’s sole remaining member and eternal mouthpiece, has long turned Integrity into a vehicle for his apocalyptic visions and esoteric rituals. From the straightforward hardcore of their late 80’s through mid-90’s incarnation, to the divisive, unique Integrity 2000 and Rob Orr eras, Integrity has morphed from band to entity, an elemental force that is felt throughout hardcore and its splintering genres like veins to arteries. So yeah, Integrity is important.
Until now, Hellion and his rotating collaborators had yet to produce an album that equaled 2003’s To Die For; a slick, breathless and zero-fluff throwback to the name’s heyday. The Blackest Curse and Suicide Black Snake were bleak and mysterious, true-to-form material, though they lacked the visceral, scorching punch of Integrity’s earlier works. Now, in the darkest of modern times, we have what could be Integrity’s best work since To Die For, or perhaps even since the legendary Humanity is the Devil.
Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume, Integrity’s Relapse Records debut, serves as a dream team-up of Hellion and Domenic Romeo, whose guitar mastery and business savvy permeated the equally influential Pulling Teeth and A389 Recordings, respectively. The latter entity alone has been responsible for releasing much of Integrity’s back catalog, making this joining of apocalyptic forces more than appropriate. To further this deliberate connective tissue, Joshua Brettell of Ilsa, an A389 graduate and fellow Relapse signee, sits atop the percussion throne.
There’s been chatter here and there about Howling sounding like Integrity with Pulling Teeth riffs. While that isn’t entirely untrue, the sentiment robs the album of the majesty that Romeo’s guitars bring to the Integrity sound, which remains very much intact throughout. “Blood Sermon” sets this template with its striking melody tempered by a near black metallic fury, introducing us to what is the most addictive iteration of Integrity in years. Per the R.U.G. cover of “Deathly Fighter” that preceded its release, Howling finds itself blessed with an omnipresence of classic heavy metal, most prominent on “Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame” and “Die With Your Boots On.” The latter is as anthemic a song as Integrity has produced since the titular To Die For track, granted, Howling in its entirety is an ode to all subjects unholy and against the grain. Indeed, the album finds itself being daring in ways that are welcome and surprising.
“Serpent of the Crossroads” is a meandering centerpiece that takes its time to ponder on each facet of its makeup, whether it be the elegant ashen fluttering of Romeo’s solos or the churning heresy of Hellion’s voice and lyricism. “Unholy Salvation of Sabbatai Sevi” is a calculated dreamscape of a song, replete with hammering sitar, doom metal passages and sudden but unifying punk-laden outburst. “7 Reece Mews” (see Francis Bacon) is equal sermon and hardcore wrath against the backdrop of wavering guitars, all while challenging all this talk of nightmares with its ethereal tone and graceful transitions. “String Up My Teeth” is the most approachable entry that flat out borders on pop music and is downright gleeful in how bizarre it is. Despite its lavish 70’s rock trappings, “String Up My Teeth” meshes with the collection rather than sticking out, which is owed largely to Howling’s arrangement at large. The closing, eponymous track is a desolate, resplendent apocalypse that is equal triumph and mourning, a juxtaposition of all the ugly and beauty Howling consists of.
In truth, a whole novelette could go into everything that makes Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume the masterpiece that it is, but no measure of hyperbolic wording can do this album justice. For optimal effect, it’s best you listen to Howling… a dozen or so times and let its fangs consume you skull-first.