Howlin Rain – Magnificent Fiend

"...when you consider that the creative forces behind it were Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire, and John Maloney of Sunburned Hand of the Man, and when you consider that they set out to actually write identifiable ‘songs’, then what else could it have been but brilliant?"


Howlin Rain – Magnificent Fiend


 


Howlin Rain created one of the most fun rock albums of recent years with their debut platter. Mind you, when you consider that the creative forces behind it were Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire, and John Maloney of Sunburned Hand of the Man, and when you consider that they set out to actually write identifiable ‘songs’, then what else could it have been but brilliant?


 


A couple of years down the track and the follow up, Magnificent Fiend, has appeared. Maloney’s returned to the day job and Miller’s fleshed out the band somewhat. It’s still fried southern rock but the sound has moved on. It’s been smoothed out somewhat – whilst there are still rocking guitar solos none on this album resemble the sound of an angle grinder taking apart a tank. There are also more keyboards and the playing is more complex. Whilst this makes for some great moments the appliance of spit and polish has slightly dulled the sheer dumb joy of the first album.


 


Having said that the first album didn’t have a track like Lord Have Mercy on it. Sweet Jesus, this track squeezes just about as much fun as you could possibly imagine into a rock song. It starts off nice and quietly, whilst still talking about ‘the dawning of the cannibal world.’ Piano and Hammond organs augment the basic rock sound as Miller shrieks out the words. It’s catchy as hell and fun to boot, but it’s only the beginning. The song retreats as Miller slowly repeats ‘Lord have mercy on my soul.’ The song builds and builds as the repetitions continue until there is what can only be described as a Queen moment. The whole song stops and in an instant the whole band sings the words in harmony. Then all hell breaks loose and they continue to repeat the chorus until they are drowned out by an insane guitar solo that takes the track to the end of its six and a half minutes. It’s the biggest, dumbest thrill you could possibly imagine.


 


Goodbye Ruby starts off like a funk track from the seventies with wah-wah guitar a-plenty. Having said that, not that many funk songs speak of mould, rust, hangmen, snakes, blood, bones, graves and ghosts – yes, all the favourite topics of the first album are present are correct on Magnificent Fiend. The song builds, and rocks, whilst never quite losing its funky origins. It even contains – and this is admittedly unusual for a rock-funk wigout - a trombone and saxophone solo. You’ll have to trust me on this, but it works.


 


You can consider your money well spent for these two tracks alone. But there’s another five songs of inspired rock craziness too. Dancers at the End of Time opens up like the Doors if the Doors were a metal band and whilst there is a lot of rocking on the album tracks such as Nomads and El Rey offer some respite. So yes, the sound is rather more polished (perhaps because it’s come out on Rick Rubin’s American imprint) but that doesn’t mean that the band has forgotten how to rock. And it’s also one of the few albums that I’ve listened to in recent times that can make me smile at the same time as nod my head like a maniac.


Words: Chris Dawson