Review: Warcrab ‘The Howling Silence’

Warcrab have been doing their scuttling sludge-influenced death metal dance for over a decade now, their name an amazing invocation of terrifying imagery with just a slight knowing wink of the eye that says they are serious about this crust-laden bludgeon but are also savvy enough not to take themselves too seriously.

Warcrab 'The Howling Silence' Artwork
Warcrab ‘The Howling Silence’ Artwork

What also struck me as amazing, I have known various members of this crushingly heavy outfit from the South West of England for nearly two decades from the brutal thrash of former band Schiztome as well as their manic grind side project Cretinous Breed. I’ve also seen the ‘crab evolve from a name being hollered at a bewildered Kirk Windstein at the Thekla in Bristol to the terrifying, snarling beast that now boasts four full-length albums to their name.

I often use the idiom ‘there must be something in the water’ and not being a native of Devon, but having lived here for the last twenty-five years, I have noticed that they like to do things differently ‘down ‘ere’. This violent crustacean creation from Plymouth has blended their deathly aggression with sickening, lurching grooves that crawls in a way that takes the best parts of both genres and can see them get surgical like Carcass and bellow like the aforementioned Crowbar frontman.

Having taken a more focused direction on the previous album, 2019’s Damned In Endless Night, you might forgive the band for taking their foot off the pedal and slowing the ferocious speed (after all, none of us are getting any younger), but no. In a raging fury, The Howling Silence sees the former six-piece slimmed down to five, dropping their three-pronged axe attack, allowing guitarists Leigh Jones and Geoff Holmes to shred and vent their anger in a way that sees the band lose absolutely none of their former power.

In fact, the band seem revitalised and Orbital Graveyard positively ignites with confidence as Rich Parker hammers on the kit with authority and the guitarists along with bassist David Symonds combine to create a churning chug that is every bit as heavy as a Japanese spider crab on steroids. The track bristles and seethes, the low-end battering broken up by deft lead flourishes from Holmes as vocalist Martyn Grant barks and rasps. Over this thrashing vortex, there are moments where the pace ebbs slightly only to return with vengeance showing that the sludge influence still bubbles under the surface.

Right on cue, after the abrupt stop, Titan Of War brings slow brooding drama before evolving into a bouncing groove and vicious hardcore assault, similar to the one Battalions captured on last year’s King Of A Dead World. Here Warcrab show more of the considered approach from the previous release but weld it to a chunked-up fuzz that for all its crusty belligerence, is chock full of hooks and molasses-slow atmospherics.

Black Serpent Coils begins with tortuously deep bass notes before breaking into a deft blues funk that may surprise the listener, but not for long as once again the anger strains to be unleashed and the drums crash and riffs thump into gear. However, they still retain a classical melodic sensibility that elevates them beyond simple Cro-Magnon tantrums and even when they let the breaks off and switch through the gears from sludge into full-on thrashing, it is tempered with a knowing maturity and dexterous songwriting that makes it a sheer delight as the tension builds in anticipation.

every bit as heavy as a Japanese spider crab on steroids…

Sword Of Mars has no issues disguising or pulling its punches and looks to obliterate everything in its path before the longer-running As The Mourners Turn Away sees the band get darker with the more introspective, slow-burning intro that mutates into an anguished crawl.

This longer-running format channels raw emotion alongside the sombre musical progression that showcases the more mature and considered side of the band and reinforces the old adage of nothing making heavy seem heavier than a lighter passage for contrast. Here, even when they lumber into a slightly higher march, Warcrab smoulders rather than spits venom.

This muted atmosphere continues on the intro to Sourlands Under A Rancid Sun and they keep that grimy slow pace with murky bass plods, instrumental dropouts and huge loose string bends that pound, rather than pummel, confirming once again that the side walkers know how to temper their brutality and are no mere palm muting one trick ponies.

Final entry, the title track itself is a ten-minute epic that spans everything the band have thrown at the listener in the preceding half an hour, but somehow distilled into something that doesn’t feel contrived. It can take multiple listens to absorb the scope of what is going on and appreciate all the nuances. From the tribal drumming on the intro, through to the pummelling riffs, the dizzying solo, the unsettling creeping quiet passage and then the climax of the ending where they absolutely beat the shit out of everything, Grant bug-eyed and gargling the lyrics before collapsing into feedback and an exhausted silence.

I feel I always end up confessing that I am not as big a death metal fan as I once was these days having found the genre slipping into a predictable rut a few years back, but The Howling Silence offers up much more than formulaic pick-sweeping and guttural monotone belches.

The shapeshifting dynamic between the brutality and speed of their more extreme nature, contrasting with a raw crust and doomy sludge makes Warcrab a welcome and varied listen that doesn’t just pass by in a blur of blast beats, making it sit more in the category of the forward-thinking, multi-faceted approach with the likes of At The Gates.

Ultimately music gets judged on its ability to demand repeat listens and am I playing this again and again? You bet your sweet crab cakes I am.

Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden