Reviewed: July 2020
Released: 2020, Self released
Initially, Ice Howl appeared to be destined for a short burn.
Conceived in 2014 as a means for ex-Thorr-axe drummer Jason Roach to bring life to some songs he had been working on, he drafted in his friends, Niko Albenese and Tucker Thomasson to help realise a project that would eventually become Ice Howl’s first full length album: the Bandcamp bestseller, Crack The Earth (2016).
Live dates followed, but ultimately, the trio brought things to a close, disappearing into a two year hiatus. This period of inactivity came to an end when Roach emerged with some brand new material, much of which can be found across various EPs and singles under the Ice Howl banner. Each one has acted as a stepping stone towards what we have before us now – a second full length album, featuring Roach as the sole member of the band; writing, recording and performing everything himself.
Despite my description of their existing body of work, this album is actually the first I’ve heard of Ice Howl. Roach gives the project a fairly blunt description: “Heavy. Melodic.”
While I’d say this is a fairly accurate account of the music, it sells the seven songs on offer slightly short. Cadence Of The Cursed is initially a lot more upbeat and groovy than the title might suggest. The pensive, downward facing skull on the cover led me to expect something more doom influenced, bleak and nihilistic, but opening track Lifestream presents us with the sort of rolling, head-nodder of a riff that goes well with an oily rag and a Dickies workshirt. It’s a punchy instrumental that acts as a way to limber up for the album’s first single, A Wizards Death.
The first song to feature vocals introduces a hazy, psychedelic half time that sways and lurches its way into a choppy verse and an impressively rousing chorus. It’s an early highlight that bodes well the five remaining songs.
Light The Bonfire and False Hope are both fun, no-nonsense, if slightly less memorable tunes. Essentially cut from the same cloth, they drive along with such an exuberant chug it’s difficult not to find them appealing. The latter benefits from some layered vocals and another great chorus that draws the listener in with some NWOBHM “woah-oh” sing-a-long moments. I’m confident that after two or three plays you’ll be pumping your fist and raising your voice in unison!
The title track is divided into two parts; subtitled Revival and Rapture – The former is an atmospheric guitar piece that serves as a moment of calm before the staccato groove of the latter urges me to raise the volume a notch.
Rapture is a mid-paced grind that stands as out as a particularly impressive arrangement. It’s here that Roach gives you his biggest riffs, adding some melodic flair, growled vocals and rhythmic shifts to a twelve minute monolith of a track that easily earns its spot as being the song that the record was named after.
So definitive is the second half of the title track, Way Of The Voice actually feels a bit surplus by the time we get to it. That’s not to say it’s a bad track and it serves to consolidate everything that went before it fairly well. It slips through it’s gears effortlessly, making shifts from doom, metal and hard rock in a sort of catch up summary of what this record is all about.
Cadence Of The Cursed is definitely worth some attention. Jason Roach clearly has an ear for a good arrangement and he performs with confidence. In many ways, the real triumph of this release is how impressive it sounds for just one man to be involved, however, the limitations of this are present too. There are moments where I wonder what this would sound like with a bigger studio sound or the soaring contribution of a virtuoso lead guitarist – but these are niggles, and they only serve to illustrate room to build on something that is actually working pretty damn well to begin with.
I’ll be playing this again, and I look forward to hearing what comes next.