If we talk Symphonic Black Metal A.D. 2008 it goes without any in-depth explanations that CEREMONIAL CASTINGS were the band, which had really much to say in this field. Just the same year their “Salem 1692” saw the light of day, these guys’ colleagues of WOLFGATE released their very first work called “Howling Lament”. Needless to say it would come as a truly big surprise if the newcomers showed at least similar skills and talent as CEREMONIAL CASTINGS.
The six-track demo CD from the Los Angeles-based group is filled with furious songs of utterly frenetic character having many associations to some European acts not only representing Symphonic Black Metal genre (for instance, the clean vocal parts in the second track remind me of some Norwegian Black/Pagan bands). It all begins very promisingly, a dismal, gloomy introduction features a number of howls, waning wind and a sound of a rusty, heavy gate being opened before our ears and inviting (?) us to the “Ancient Dominion”, the best effort among those on “Howling Lament”. The initial orchestral sequence is as if inspired by the Austrians of SUMMONING so I was actually expecting some down-tempo epic stuff rather than the chaotic sound storm of distorted guitars and blast beats, which instead started flowing from my speakers. In the background of this deadly cacophony – enhanced by venomous Black shrieks and more Death-oriented deep growls – one can still hear the symphonic work of the keyboard section. The keys become a bit more exposed in the middle of the composition, which strengthens its melodic character without making it tacky in any way. The already mentioned clean vocals convince me that “Ancient Dominion” is definitely number one here.
Similar things have been used in the following tracks, though, the results vary. “Invocations Of The Gate Of Nergal”, the longest on the track-list, does not include – despite its length – as many arrangements that could attract my attention. I do not appreciate the somewhat poor, plastic sound of the drums, which can be heard clearly in the blast beat sequences. Only the vocal department does its work as properly as in the first regular song and the overall feeling is that the composition is just a long mix of relatively average music bits. Luckily, another highlight appears in the form of “Eternal Night Sky”. The combined clean and harsh vocals seem to be really fine, the tempo is changing pretty often and the keys cooperate very well with the six-stringers and the rhythm section (strangely enough, the sound of the drums does not disturb me here). What makes this tune a bit more exceptional is the very catchy main keyboard motif, not only this one as a matter of fact as there are other key parts here that emanate with dramaturgy mixed with insanity. The last two tracks are just keeping a decent level not surprising with anything extraordinary.
As regards the question of production there is – apart from a number of drums parts – nothing much to complain about, especially considering the fact that this is WOLFGATE first demo release. The sound of the guitars is filthy while the keys breathe much space into this stuffy broth, all the vocals in turn are placed just where they should. To say it very briefly – everything is well-balanced. Perhaps next time the whole mix could be slightly more powerful and overwhelming?
“Howling Lament” is a very decent start for the Americans but they still have to exert themselves more in order to be recognizable. I am sure they will make a step forward with their next release, which is currently being recorded somewhere in California.
(Online May 15, 2009)