The Space Between Worlds may technically be Howling Giant’s first full-length album but it sure doesn’t feel that way considering what they’ve already achieved. Plenty of groups cut their teeth on short format releases, but the two Black Hole, Space Wizard EPs released in 2016 and 2017 played more like two halves of a unified concept that each offered a distinct flavor. The approach arguably helped set the Nashvillians apart from their peers and they seem poised to push the momentum to even further heights.
Thankfully this album doesn’t stray from the melodic stoner-prog sound that Howling Giant has already become associated with. Even if one isn’t paying attention to the lyrics detailing dreamscapes and metaphysical travel, the concept can still be felt throughout. The rhythms and structures stay abstract, songs go through a variety of moods while keeping to an appropriately otherworldly atmosphere, and spoken segments occasionally pop up. There are moments where one can detect Kyuss-style desert rock influence, yet the album maintains an almost oceanic feel.
Their melodicism is played up a lot more on this album. The vocals are pushed to the forefront, revealing some alternative phrasing while displaying a spacy character, and keyboards maintain a tasteful prominence in the mix. In addition, the guitars and bass show off some fluid flair even if the tones aren’t as fuzzy this time around. It’s hard to tell whether these factors make the album more accessible than the EPs, but we can at least take comfort in knowing that the band didn’t dumb themselves down in the process.
Basing the songwriting on slow-burning narrative development makes for results that are often more subtle than outright catchy, but there are plenty of strong, varied tracks to work with. The revved-up drive on the opening “Comet Rider” and “Ice Castle” draw the most initial attention, but the mammoth tracks like “The River Guide” and the closing “Stone Giant” make for the album’s most climactic moments. There are also a few neat outliers as “Ghosts in the Well” is an enjoyable acoustic jaunt while the quirk vocals on “Cybermancer and the Doomsday Expr” give it a poppy edge.
I must admit it took me a little longer than I expected to get a feel for The Space Between Worlds. It’s not a dramatic curveball by any means but the more subtle approach requires more attentive listening than the comparably intense Black Hole, Space Wizard saga. But having gotten used to the album’s approach, the more prominent vocals, and cleaner instrumentation arguably makes it even easier to appreciate the band’s intricate musicianship and adventurous structuring. Howling Giant is a way’s away from a break into the mainstream, but stoner rock fans can keep enjoying the uphill climb.
“Ghosts in the Well”
“The River Guide”
“Cybermancer and the Doomsday Expr”