“Watch the World Die” (2013)
Album Review by NICHOLAS HAUST
Opening for heavyweights of the genre such as Nekromantix, The Koffin Kats, Nick 13, and Three Bad Jacks, The Howlers have established themselves as part of the psychobilly pack. Eli Misery proves to be the one with the most howling to do and serves as the band’s lead vocalist. Josh takes up the backing vocals along with guitar, while Peter Panic plucks away at a stand-up bass; and Jared plays a second guitar. Vince brings the rhythm as the band’s drummer.
True to their name, The Howlers’ album starts off with a chorus of chilling howls. These howls signify the howling good time listeners are about to have. With a solid instrumental, Caput Mortuum sets the tone of this album. The song deserves its place on the set list despite the Latin words meaning “worthless remains” (in the context of the useless byproducts of a chemical reaction). The song, contrary to what its title might imply, is a worthy catalyst for one lively record.
The second song of the album, Possessed, picks up with a heavy metal feel: hard, constant guitar, frantic drums—the vocals are true to their horror-punk and psychobilly influences. Like the intro instrumental, Possessed is little more than a minute and a half. It further plants the seed of theme, utilizing the metaphor of darkness within to illustrate the dark mindset of the entire set.
Vocalist Eli Misery pushes his limits in a hauntingly human way to make song three, Hereafter, a strong contender in the horror-punk genre as a whole and certainly a standout in the album. Questions of existence, death, and life after death provide enough substance to make the song meaning feel deep as well as poetic. For the most part, the presence of drums is far more apparent than the guitar work in this song and this allows for a unique energy.
Whereas the guitars in Hereafter sounded almost hushed, as if coming from behind the veil of death, they revive two-fold in Incantation. The stings vibrate through spines with ghoulish energy. With a sound akin to early AFI, and with a heavy utilization of backing chants, Eli Misery demonstrates a real range to his voice. A story also really begins to develop here and carries on into the following number, Lost Soul. Lost Soul’s vocals shift gears to a more rockabilly sound and are accompanied only by a quiet strumming of a guitar until the rest of the band steps in and Eli cries out in a tortured wail. The stand up bass rattles throughout the song with Peter Panics precise rhythm as Eli howls out variations of the title. The song emphasizes both bass and vocals, which set the song apart from those surrounding it. While the topical lost soul might be forsaken, this song will be far from it as listeners will likely replay it again and again.
The fact that Signs of the Living (1:10) is the shortest song on the album might be indicative of its punk and metal influences. It hits loud and hard and then it’s on to the next. Signs of the Living is neither anything special nor anything particularly lackluster. It is a simple yet heavy song with heavy metal and punk elements. If it weren’t so short, it might encourage a skip upon repeat listen to the album.
There’s a Place is a nostalgic homage to brotherly love and friendship. Given the emotional quality to the vocals, one might assume that there is a real story behind the song. It is certainly the sweetest in terms of lyrics. While the song is a strong addition to the album as is, it might have been stronger if it were not so vague. Perhaps if it gave a little insight to The Howlers it could’ve proved a contender for top song of the set.
Speaking of contenders, the subsequent song, Die Alone, is no doubt one. A song resounds with the sound that every horror-punk song covets. Rhythm guitar, heavy bass, high-hats? Check. Haunting vocals with a chorus of backup moans? Check. Gloomy, morbid lyrics delivered with high energy? Check. Die Alone buries itself in the heart of the listener and ascertains that they feel both alive and in good company in their anger, misery, and cynicism. Guitar is again front-and-center mid way through the song with a solid emotional solo.
The real star of the following song is the backing vocals. The soft, melodic backing vocals in Within a Shadow compliment the gritty lead vocals so well, one gets the impression they serve as a metaphorical shadow.
The title song of the album Watch the World Die is the song that first grabbed my attention and it is sure to grab the attention of new listeners, as well. There is almost a western showdown sound to the opening that evolves into a classic psychobilly composition: a rattling of the stand-up bass, a rhythm of the drums, a twang of guitars, a growl of a torture vocal soul, and the piping of backing vocals as if from a ghostly dimension. The sweet bitterness at the world is never more apparent in this album than in Watch the World Die. There is something beautiful, though terrifying about the impending end to reality as we know it and this song truly captures it. The song is wonderful as a work out song or to help release pent up frustrations and can serve as an anthem for those drawn to the genre. While other songs on the album are also great, this has got to be the strongest in terms of character.
The Fallen resonates with the angsty hatred and punk sound that many will struggle to separate from other classic songs in the genre, such as those from the AFI albums Very Proud of Ya and Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes. It seems the whole band provides backing vocals for this one and it’s a welcome change of pace. It sounds not unlike rallying cry for mob or militia, spawned from a group of dissatisfied and angry youth. Even though it follows Watch the World Die, The Fallen holds its own.
While The Fallen sounds like a call to arms, Living Hell sounds more like the same group have matured and accepted the realities of the world, no matter how horrific they might be. There is a renewed hope infused throughout and the anger is diminished. The vocals are more ethereal and haunting, and the song is a strong addition to the set.
If any song on the album demonstrates a rockabilly influence, it’s Undead. Even with the morbid lyrics indicating a preference of death to living, the song remains surprisingly upbeat in sound and would be right at home on a stage for a Hot August Nights event. Far from being undead itself, the song is full of life.
The album concludes with a bitter-sweet song, Road to Nowhere. It’s a strong end that leaves the listener wanting more, and yet it’s a fitting end to the Watch the World Die album.
Fans of 12 Step Rebels, Blitzkid, AFI, and psychobilly in general ought to enjoy Watch the World Die.