Integrity - Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume (2017)


One thing that has always separated Integrity from most of their contemporaries- in both the punk and metal circles- is their dedication to intelligence. Each release since their debut has found the band not so much shouting boldfaced proclamations, but asking questions that seemingly have no answer. This came to an initial crest with 1995’s Humanity is the Devil wherein the band dug into what it is that makes mankind be the kind of animal he is- and make no mistake, at least from Integrity’s perspective, an animal, and not some higher intelligent being, he is.

In fact, on the wonderfully Blinko-esque titled Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume, Integrity mastermind Dwid Hellion gives this topic his full focus for the album’s duration. You could accuse him of being too heady except that, this album, frankly, rocks the hell out.

Having disbanded the previous Integrity lineup, Hellion recruited longtime pal Domenic Romeo to help him compose the tuneage here and, for lack of a better term, the pair go all in on the metal side. Mighty '80s thrash riffs abound. Romeo plays with texture as much as notes, so a lumbering darkness, ala South of Heaven looms throughout the album. (Listen to that wonderfully sour bend on “I am the Spell.”) This album might rip, but it also has body. Instead of aimless thrashing, it’s mindful thrashing. And the solos. Good Lord the solos. Hellion and Romeo are both fans of 80s metal in most of its forms and one thing that unites thrash to death metal to cock rock is thee majestic, unrestrained solo. Romeo, a disciple of the form, spares no expense and lays coil upon coil of blistering solo on top of his blunter charging. You’d think it would make the album sound messy, but to the contrary, because Romeo sets a hard rumbling at this album’s core, the whole things feels like a mad titan's thrashing, as opposed to something with looser threads.

And of course, this supports Hellion’s glass-and-tar musings to a T. Roughly speaking, the concept of the album is artist Francis Bacon being sucked into a void and witnessing humanity’s unending disgrace (compare the album's title to Bacon's famous crucifix pieces). But wisely, the story, even when boiled down into its simplest form, isn’t really the main unit. Hellion brings Bacon, Manson, Satan, Jesus, and a mad Rabbi into these lyrics, but the point isn’t necessarily to tell a story about them- this isn't Rush and this isn't Hemispheres. Rather, Hellion is exploring what these archetypes represent and is investigating if there’s more to comprehend than what we see at face value. Of course, the only real way to figure this out is through introspection and Hellion masterfully couches his own internal musings in the passion plays presented throughout this album. That is, Hellion doesn’t seem as interested in spoonfeeding one narrative or moral to the listener as he is engaging the listener in a discussion about metaphysics and what it means to be human- albeit an often very dark discussion. Hellion doesn’t think humans are doing such a good job at this whole existence thing, and of course, the twist is, that doesn’t really seem to bother him either. He’s more of a scientist, observing stimuli and reaction than he is trying to interfere- not to give too much away, but the analogy of a force at work outside of a controlled system is particularly apt for this band and especially for this release.

It can be hard to tell sometimes if Integrity is presenting a puzzle- are there deeper meanings to these tales? Are these sigils littered throughout implying something to “those in the know”- or are they simply reciting their own beliefs without argument? Frankly, this duality is not only what makes the band peerless, but it's one of the things that garners them a cult following that is forever debating and deciphering these topics. It’s cliché at this point, but Integrity really is an outsider band with no real “brother bands” in either genre or topical content. That might fall apart in weaker hands, but the band, here, is confident enough, skilled enough, and thoughtful enough to turn this massive piece – two lps of dark-metaphysical music backed by hardcore-tinged thrash- into one of their best works, if not their best work. Hellion may have a dismal view of humanity, but if I may counter, if humans are clever enough able to create art this thoughtful, this intelligent, and this bold, and if other humans are able to use these pieces as tools for their own cosmic searching, humanity can’t be all bad.