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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 244 - 07/20/16

Howlin' of the Wolf
Backfire Madness
Dead Cool Records / Break-a-leg Recordings

Howlin' of the Wolf from Fredrikstad, Norway are the duo of Esben Roos Svendsen (vocals, harmonica & percussion) and Jan Raymond Svendsen (guitar & percussion). On stage they expand to a complete band, but on their debut album Backfire Madness Svendsen & Svendsen chose for their songs to be rather sparsely instrumented. On the inner cover they are depicted as see-through ghosts looking down on their own tombstone, and along with the rest of the somewhat grim imagery and cover art, it is clear that we're not in for a joyride. You might think that the two are brothers, but they are not. They met a few years ago, quickly realising that they shared a musical vision, that eventually would materialize in Backfire Madness.

Howlin' of the Wolf's musical stew is made up of few but powerful ingredients. The distorted vocal is mainly accompanied by an electric guitar, some simple percussive effects and the occasional harmonica tones. The songs are kind of minimalist blues constructions, boiled down to only a couple of chords and few movements. The vocals have a growling, hissing and whispering quality, while the harmonica sounds like a train whistle, signalling departure for destination nowhere. Some sonic spice is thrown in with the sound of rain and wind, adding to the already cinematic atmosphere of several of the songs. Some tracks here would indeed be very suitable for soundtrack use. Watching the latest season of the Bloodline series, I found myself thinking that "Backstabber" would be the perfect mood-setter for that damp Florida Keys set misadventure.

You might think that the simple musical formula leaves little room for variation, but this is not the case. Songs like "Backstabber", "The Spell", "Rock Bottom", "God Damn Creep" and "Bone to Pick" all shine with different rays of darkness, while nothing escapes from the black hole of "Declaration of Shit". The vocals along with the dark and harsh lyrics may touch upon a cartoonish presence, but that's about the only thing here that stops the listener from being consumed by the bleak stories being told. They are all balancing between reality and nightmare through themes related to death, voodoo, revenge, power and powerlessness. Nevertheless the album does not make for a depressing listen, rather one of fascination, each song being a small and vivid soundtrack, original and gripping.

Svendsen talks rather than sings, but I can see why others have compared his vocals to Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. Dr. John has also been mentioned as a reference, probably because of his voodoo influences. One could say that Howlin' of the Wolf create their own special poor-mans gumbo, post-Katrina style. Somewhere at the end of Robbie Robertson's Crazy River a lost soul will give you the recipe. Visit Howlin' of the Wolf to get your personal copy.

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