New England’s Holy Cow (not the Holy Cows, another band entirely) are merchants of the macabre, partaking equally of the dark intensity of Bauhaus and the bleak, forceful pound of the Swans. Though mohawked lead vocalist Chris Means occasionally sounds a bit too much like Peter Murphy for comfort, he is able to conjure up a seething well of rage, nausea and utter dislocation, rendered with such authority that it can’t help but work. The band takes the best elements of the gothic and industrial-noise genres, yet belongs wholly to neither — theirs is an older, weirder tradition harking back to prime local/literary inspiration H.P. Lovecraft.
Call It What You Will is a patchwork affair, jumping from an avant-garde experiment to the Christian Death-like crawl of “Ichorous Pus” and metal-machine mantra of “Work” to the punkishly brisk “Black & White” and the gruesomely catchy “Lady Cadava.” On “Noises,” a pulsing, strumming, neo-acoustic gloom-pop number, all the vocals (save for the chorus) run backward.
By its sophomore effort, Holy Cow had turned meaner and harder, grabbing onto a pretty original (but definitely not pretty) and far more unified sound. The record is broken up into thematic halves. Each of the four songs (not counting a closing instrumental) on the Suggested Reading side puts a favorite horror short story to hyper-distorted bass riffs. The results: frighteningly good songs like the ferocious, bone-chilling “Rep Fuck” (inspired by Stephen King’s Gramma). The album’s slightly less gripping flipside, Apocalypse Cow, is a live document, highlighted by an intense medley of their own “God” and “39 Lashes” (from Jesus Christ Superstar).