“Don’t take us too seriously, or take us incredibly seriously. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the middle ground,” said Zach Wheeler, drummer of Nashville-based Howling Giant.
This year has been the Nashville trio’s most prolific. The self-described “progressive, heavy rock” outfit have expanded their ecosystem, crisscrossing the U.S. several times on tour, and releasing their first full length album, The Space Between Worlds, September 27 on Blues Funeral Records. That growth has brought about significant change for a band, also including guitarist and frontman Tom Polzine and bassist Sebastian Baltes, who previously only toured for shorter stints, with their gear and bodies confined to a hearse.
Polzine said, “While we miss the hearse dearly, we love the room that the Midnight Ghost Van offers. The longer drives give Sebastian the much needed rest for his massive output of energy on the stage. We have also created the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipe after many tireless hours in the van.”
A lineup change added Baltes to the group in late 2018; the son of famed bassist Peter Baltes (ex-ACCEPT), his appointment fit in to both Howling Giant’s sound, and their sense of humor. Polzine added, “Sebastian’s bass tone and capability as a player allowed us to write more intricate parts both vocally and instrumentally. We typically start a song with a riff and trust that the old gods will provide the rest. Needless to say, there is a lot of sage being burned.”
Lauded by stoner, doom, and psychedelic rock listeners for their Black Hole Space Wizard Pts. 1 and 2 EPs that followed their debut self-titled EP, Howling Giant consistently prove that they aren’t shy storytellers. For those unaware of the band’s roots, they formally kicked things off in 2014, initially drawing lyrical inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons gameplay. Ensuing releases have entertained similar fantasy- and space-themed (read: nerdy) content.
The Space Between Worlds is a concept album embracing a new story arc, officially described as “the story of a huntress who travels the infinite metaphysical worlds brought into being by the dreams of humankind. In these realms, she encounters a dream eater which threatens to unravel the fabric of reality by devouring dreamers and destroying the dimensional gateways.”
The album dawns with “Comet Rider”, an upbeat song that came to life in August as the first single. If you begin listening with expectations based on the Black Hole Space Wizard series, it’s your own fault. Although still recognizable as Howling Giant, the opening song introduces influences a range of musical influences heard later in the album, such as punk and even a little twist of pop.
Polzine said, “The punk aspect has always existed; see ‘Doug’ from our first EP. We always consider how the album will come across when you listen from start to finish. The punk element adds some nice energy to the overall flow of the album. ‘Comet Rider’ was the first song we wrote for The Space Between Worlds, so we felt that it should be the first song that we released.”
The Howling Giant faithful can relax when “Nomad” plays, as it sounds more familiar to recent releases, touting a chugging stoner-psych feel. “Ghosts in the Well” is another highlight; although acoustic and slower in tempo, it adds a dreamlike quality and doesn’t detract from the album’s momentum early on.
“Cybermancer and the Doomsday Express” is decidedly buoyant- dare we say fun- and again pulls in a hint of easygoing punk. In addition to the status of the album’s second single, Wheeler said that it is among the staples of their live set. “We keep the setlist fairly diverse, including a couple songs from each release. So far we’ve been playing ‘Comet Rider’, ‘Ice Castle’, and ‘Cybermancer and the Doomsday Express’ at every show.”
Skipping ahead to “Stone Giant”, this song may well be the best saved for last, and allows the female protagonist to conclude her mission. It cleverly ties together earlier themes of the album, and conjures dreamlike images with lyrics like “Starlight carrier / Hold your lantern to the sky / Climb the wall higher / Keep your arrows at your side”. Noteworthy are the vocal harmonies, as well as Baltes’ bass tone, albeit cleaner-sounding than the band’s previous releases. Around the 3:30 mark, instrumental layering invites the listener to the task of detecting additional elements each time the riff repeats.
Overall, The Space Between Worlds is a solid offering, exploring several directions of Howling Giant’s sound and instrumental capabilities. This album showed their ability to tell a full-length story, and in DND terms, has activated a portal for the band to continue to climb.
Not interested in resting, the band recently announced on social media that they are “cookin’ up more tours” to visit more fans in the near future. Polzine recalled highlights of their most recent time on the road, saying, “Louisville is only 2.5 hours from Nashville and brings the thunder and hails us as friends every time. Indianapolis and the Indy Metal Vault have always been good to us. Doomed and Stoned Ohio is hosted in Canton, and has supported us many times. We ate rad pierogis in Columbus and needed to do laundry, which was convenient considering we performed in a laundromat. Pittsburgh was as advertised, and Baltimore made a dang beer for us.”
But, Polzine said, Nashville is a hospitable place to park their mother ship. “It is always growing and evolving. With a massive influx of musicians moving here, bands get created and dissolved every day. We’re lucky to be surrounded by great friends and talented musicians everywhere we turn.”
Get to Know Howling Giant
On their beer collaboration with Baltimore’s Oliver Brewing Company:
“We first met Steve, the head brewer of Oliver Brewing Company, on the last East Coast tour. After a quick tour of his brewery and sampling of his beer, we started the discussion of a possible HG/Oliver collaboration. We’re so glad he agreed to work with us, because we were big fans of his beer. The Space Between Worlds Fall Saison is an absolute banger. We picked the saison style because it’s a unique beer style. Although we all love IPA’s, we feel that saison are underrepresented in the craft beer scene and deserve your undivided attention. It slaps.”
On their loyal fanbase:
“We’ve had fans write theories about our concept material, travel across the country to see us play, make us dinner, and house us after shows despite how sweaty and gross we appear. Needless to say, we are so grateful for all of our listeners and the kindness they have shown us every single day. The Wizard Lives.”
On celebrating the release of The Space Between Worlds:
“Tom intends to get blackout drunk on The Space Between Worlds Saison and buy property in Tijuana. He’ll call it Rancho Del Nomad. Sebastian will take an extra special nap. Zach will get a face tat of the album credits. Just spit ballin’.”
On spending time together as a band:
“While DND is our mutually well-loved history, it has admittedly been hard to find time to gather adventurers and quest for glory these days. Our adventures have led us to Magic the Gathering, hi-fives, and baking. We will inevitably dive back into the fantasy realm soon, as winter figuratively and literally approaches us. To the victor go the spoils.”