Over the decades, hardcore punk music has often been an outlet for the voice of the voiceless; an angry fist of defiance against the perceived oppression of modern society. With Howl, aptly named after the Allen Ginsberg poem of the same name, This Routine Is Hell are here to carry on that tradition, delivering a vitriolic 18 minute assault on those who would attempt to stifle their dreams — a series of poignant battle cries to and from a generation brought up around media interference, global conflict and economic meltdown, one distorted guitar riff at a time.
In truth, It’s a difficult album to frame without that Ginsberg connection. Quotes from the timeless poems ‘Howl’ and ‘An Eastern Ballad’ are scattered seamlessly within Noam Cohen’s own downbeat lyrics, acting as conceptual glue and careful reminders that fear, guilt, power and hope are not just problems for the modern man. This artistic technique of liberal quotation continues throughout the record, creating a framework rooted in classic literature, something the band showed a propensity towards in their 2012 EP, ‘Repent. Repeat’. Restbite from this venomous barrage is rare, forewarned by Cohen’s hollowing screams of ‘enough is enough is enough is enough’ on opener ‘Gather Your Stones’.
Musically speaking, Howl is a fierce melting pot of traditional hardcore and punk elements — angry riffs, tempo changes, high/low dissonance, relentless bass and powerful percussion. The typical comparisons with Ceremony and Paint It Black are actually pretty fair, with Cohen sometimes even channeling Dan Yemin’s distinct cadence. The tight relationship between the blasting drums and layered guitar rhythms form the bedrock of the bands’ sound, bolstered by sporadic solos and copious feedback. There’s a definite variation and maturity here, though, with the band showing the same attention to songwriting as they do to concept, aided by superb production from Converge’s Kurt Ballou.
Despite possessing a solid technical base, the true strength of Howl no doubt lies in its message. Whilst each person may glean something different from the narrative, there is an unshakable feeling that the record is about the simple idea of following your aspirations and being yourself, for better or for worse — to be free to live without the overreaching arm of politics, religion, wealth and conventional dogma. This idea is summed up particularly well on ‘Don’t Let Them’, as Cohen bleakly screams ‘Break the chains, turn up the gain. Get rid of your pain. Cut the rope that keeps us down. Shave the brows that always frown.’ Whether you view this as overly idealist or not doesn’t detract from the bands’ persuasive conviction, and the album works better when approached without cynicism.
It’s really this marriage of concept and execution that makes Howl such a triumph. That unabashed willingness to speak their minds and influence those trapped beneath the weight of modern life, even if they are just four guys from Utrecht, is the true hardcore punk spirit. Perhaps the greatest irony is that few will ever get to listen to what This Routine Is Hell are saying, but as Allen Ginsberg himself once said, ‘to gain your own voice you have to forget about having it heard.’
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