Three years isn’t too much time between releases, but it can feel a little longer when a project is determining its ability to continue. This seemed to be the case for Ice Howl as bandleader Jason Roach elected to disband the group in 2017. Fortunately, they’re showing signs of life in 2019 and their brand of stonerized heavy metal is well preserved on this self-titled EP.
Despite moving to a one-man dynamic since 2016’s Crack the Earth, the EP’s musicianship is quite solid. The guitar maintains a fuzzy tone that services the weighty riffs as well as the more melodic segments. The vocals show a great deal of improvement, not only sitting more prominently in the mix but offering more developed phrases and refrains. Roach even lets a few screams loose, reminding one of his connections with Thorr-Axe’s earliest incarnations.
The songwriting is also quite solid and shows off some decent variety for a four-track release. “Look into the Mirror” is the EP’s most balanced track, starting things off with a steady mid-tempo beat and a particularly catchy chorus. “Strength of the Brave,” originally recorded before the initial disbandment, rounds things out quite nicely and shows off the EP’s driving tempo. “Merchant of Darkness” and “Onward to Valhalla” aren’t quite as strong as the songs surrounding them but I can get into the former’s hooks.
While Ice Howl’s self-titled EP honestly feels more like a taste of things to come than a standalone release, it’s great to see them back up and running. Those previously acquainted with Crack the Earth will find that this effort retains a similar atmosphere and chunky riff work, but it also makes an accessible sampler for those who missed them last time around. I’m happy to see things improve in the Ice Howl camp but it’ll be even more exciting if these elements carry over to another full-length release.
“Look into the Mirror”
“Strength of the Brave”