Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Album Review: Magnificent Fiend

A glorious and gritty free-wheeling rock maelstrom, Howlin' Rain's self-titled debut was one of the most slept-on albums of 2006, wonderfully combining the sonic damage of Comets On Fire's Ethan Miller's guitar and the insane rhythmic pounding of Sunburned Hand Of The Man's John Moloney.

Sadly, the original three-man line-up of Miller, Moloney and bassist Ian Gradek is no longer in place. Moloney and Gradek are gone and Miller is now joined by Joel Robinow and Eli Eckert (both from Drunk Horse), Garrett Goddard (Cuts and Colossal Yes) and Humboldt guitarist Mike Jackson.

By adding a second guitar, bass, keys and horns, Howlin’ Rain have created a far more nuanced, far richer, record than their debut, but a record that’s much less gritty, much less frenetic and much lighter. It never quite rages in the same way that their debut did. Miller's hoarse vocals are more velvety than vicious.

El Rey is practically tranquil, and while Dancers At The End Of Time – a homage to Jherrek Carnelian (a creation of Hawkwind collaborator and sci-fi writer, Michael Moorecock) – offers the album's most exciting riff, it's still a shadow of the kind Miller was pranging out on the last Comets album.

Jackson's rhythm guitar and Robinow's organ should free up Miller's guitar to enter overdrive, but it never happens. Calling Lightning Part Two – a sunny sequel to Calling Lightning With A Scythe – lacks any of the clatter of its prequel; the guitar on the Grateful Dead-aping Nomads verges on subtle. At the album’s conclusion Miller cries, “Furious misfortune is upon us.” It should be an apocalyptic warning. It's not. Album closer Riverboat is massively uplifting, warm and joyous.

Howlin’ Rain have obviously fought hard to find great songs at the heart of their freak-outs, but the freak-out weren’t merely embellishments; they were the songs. It may be churlish to criticise Miller for proving his range, but anyone expecting an overdriven psych cacophony will be disappointed.

This review is up now at Popmatters

No comments: