Integrity leader Dwid Hellion has embraced the darkness for nearly 30 years now, but on no album from the Belgium-by-way-of-Cleveland metalcore act's catalogue has the earth seemed so scorched, the future so bleak, as on their latest apocalyptic opus, Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume.
While a shrilly whispered, backwards-masked incantation on "Fallen to Destroy" is technically the first piece of foreboding lyricism the vocalist presents on this epic LP, the crux of the collection comes up quite quickly on the following "Blood Sermon," which comes fittingly backed by a round of ground-fissuring snare blasts: "The great reckoning is upon us."
The ever-morphing Integrity have switched line-ups yet again here — their frontman the only constant since the late '80s — but in new songwriting partner Dom Romeo (Pulling Teeth), Hellion's found the perfect foil to score his horror-infused prophesying. Tales full of fallen angels and flesh-rending, feral lycanthropes are complemented by the guitarist's jaw-dropping assault of dive bombs, double-hand tapping acrobatics and blood-crusted hardcore riffs.
While excelling in savagery, Romeo's musicality also expands the palette of Integrity's standard Holy Terror thrash attack. To be sure, he's adept at bringing in elements of black metal, or Motörhead-style stomps (see Lemmy Kilmister tribute "Die With Your Boots On"), but "7 Reece Mews" adds an almost sweet melancholia to the collection. Sure, Hellion starts the song off gurgling like a loosened bridge troll, but a slide guitar passage above a '50s slow dance melody finds Romeo oddly conjuring Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk." Righting this jarring preciousness, Hellion uncomfortably muses about how he's "here to steal your dreams away."
Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume is a landmark release for long-time metal miscreants Integrity, and a brave, brutal new direction for Hellion's life project. When the ground truly does rip apart and swallow us whole, we should be so lucky to go down howling with him. (Relapse)