Sound — 8
Album number 6 from Scottish post-rock deities Mogwai sees a departure from the lush soundscapes of previous albums such as Mr Beast, Happy Songs For Happy People and Rock Action and sees the band revisiting the sparse and ominous sounds of first two albums Young Team and Come On Die Young. It's a long album too - be prepared to sacrifice an hour of your life if you want to listen to it all the way through - and is their first entirely-instrumental effort (the beautiful ballad Devil Rides was recorded in the Hawk Is Howling sessions but was sadly relegated to B-side obscurity, but if you ask me it alone makes the Batcat EP worth having). What results is an album that can best be described as dense and uncompromising. The album's opening two tracks give a fair indication of what lies ahead. I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead is a brooding meditation over stately piano chords, as the heavily-effected guitars of Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings gradually reach a restrained crescendo in the background. Then Batcat kicks in with a guitar riff that could level buildings, launching into a ferocious medley of fuzzed-up, thrashy riffs that possibly goes on for a bit too long, and is also without a doubt the heaviest track ever written in 6/8 time. Daphne And The Brain is classic Mogwai through and through, with sparse keyboards and clean arpeggio lines building up to a dense wall of guitars drenched in reverb and delay, still keeping an air of restraint to it. Sadly for an often-original band, there isn't much out of the ordinary on this album, apart from a brief dalliance with electronica on The Sun Smells Too Loud.
Lyrics — 6
As I mentioned, The Hawk Is Howling is Mogwai's first entirely instrumental album and I feel that this leaves the album wanting somewhat, lacking anything along the lines of Cody or R U Still In2 It offering a moment of serenity amongst the chaos and darkness, as seen on earlier Mogwai albums.
Overall Impression — 7
Sadly this album feels somewhat like 'Mogwai by numbers' and long-term Mogwai fans will easily be able to spot the throwbacks to earlier works, whether it's The Sun Smells Too Loud recalling the glorious euphoria of Mogwai Fear Satan, or I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School and The Precipice's brooding clean lines and bruising power chords reminding oneself of Christmas Steps. Even the centrepiece track Batcat treads familiar ground explored by Mr Beast's Glasgow Mega-Snake. However, this doesn't mean it's a bad album, just that it's solid rather than spectacular. The guitars of Stuart Braithwaite, John Cummings and occasionally Barry Burns are as varied and innovative as ever, Cummings in particular now having mastered the art of atmospheric tremolo-picking. The ever-reliable rhythm section formed by Martin Bulloch's clattering drums and Dom Aitchison's ultra-melodic bass playing is present and correct too. Sadly, though, if Mogwai can turn out another Young Team or Happy Songs For Happy People, The Hawk Is Howling may replace Rock Action as the 'forgotten' Mogwai album.