If you’ve had your ear to the ground, you’re probably aware that there’s a renaissance happening in stoner/doom metal. Pallbearer and Khemmis are the kings of melodic doom, Elder are the masters of all things prog and psych, and Spirit Adrift have recently taken the underground by storm with their latest album. With the release of their debut full length The Space Between Worlds, I would argue that Howling Giant ought to be uttered in the same breath as these bands.
This album sounds like if The Sword made Mastodon’s Crack the Skye. That is to say it’s really fuckin’ good! The Space Between Worlds is a concept album based around the journey of a huntress who “travels the infinite metaphysical worlds brought into being by the dreams of humankind.” Her quest is to defeat an evil dream eater who threatens to destroy reality as we know it. So yes, another outlandish concept record that has become a trope of both stoner and prog metal, but the Howling Giant boys pull it off well without sounding tacky or clichéd.
This album falls somewhere between stoner metal, prog rock, and heavy psych. While this is a familiar combination, the songwriting is rather eclectic. “Ghosts in The Well” is an acoustic number similar to the best of Baroness’ Yellow & Green, whereas “Cybermancer and The Doomsday Express” is an upbeat punky rager. The band makes excellent use of groove throughout the album. “Comet Rider” sees the band experimenting with pacing, while songs like “Nomad” and “Everlight” start at slower tempos and build to these big head-nod moments. The band also plays with rhythmic motifs, like when they throw in those awesome triplets on “The Orb”.
To bring the Mastodon and The Sword comparisons back for a second, singer/guitarist Tom Polzine’s vocals sound like a mix of Brann Dailor and J.D. Cronise. He delivers anthemic, hooky melodies that are elevated by the other two members’ backing vocals. Harmony plays a huge part on this album, whether it’s the harmonies that weave in and out of the chorus of “Comet Rider”, the almost gang vocals on “Cybermancer and The Doomsday Express”, the ominous harmonies on “Everlight”, or the massive, swirling harmonies in the second verse of “Ice Castle”. The band also brought in Jason Shi of ASG to provide a strong counter melody in the chorus of “Ice Castle”.
Instrumentally, Zach Wheeler’s drumming is the star of the show. His drumming is all over the place in the best sense of the phrase, be it the avalanche of toms in the verses of “Stone Giant” or the buttery snare rolls in “Cybermancer and The Doomsday Express”. He also provides a healthy dose of righteous ride bell grooves. That’s not to discount the other member’s performances on this album. Being that this is stoner metal, there are so many great riffs, but guitarist Tom Polzine also shines in moments such as the solo on “Everlight” and that mind blowing, Gojira-like riff towards the end of “Stone Giant”. Sebastian Baltes’ bass playing has moments in the spotlight too on “The River Guide” and “Cybermancer and The Doomsday Express”. Guest organist/keyboardist Drew Harakal adds a dream-like texture throughout the album to bring things together nicely.
It’s just a shame that the production is not up to the same quality as the songwriting and performances. The rhythm guitars buried and the bass sounds lifeless, despite excellent performances from both axemen. The toms stick out like a sore thumb, and there were a few questionable mixing choices with the bass drum. All this being said, the quality of the songs outweighs their production issues.
This album is a major accomplishment for Howling Giant. The Space Between Worlds is a masterpiece that serves as both a crown jewel for any prog or stoner aficionado’s collection as well as a strong entry point into the underground for the more casual rock fan. This is also another entry into the list of amazing debut albums released in 2019. I hope you will join me in welcoming Howling Giant to stoner metal glory!
Howling Giant can be found on:
Best Tracks: Comet Rider, Ice Castle, Stone Giant, Cybermancer and The Doomsday Express, Ghosts in The Well
Weakest Tracks: n/a
FFO: Mastodon, The Sword, Elder, Torche
Overall Score: A-