Single 'Slowburn' is up there with 'Low Happening' and 'Setting Sun'. It could easily have slotted onto their debut with its catchy, stay-in-your-head-for-days crescendo chorus and the guitars sound absolutely full of depth in terms of production. The repetitive lyrics aren't a problem here, as Howling Bells so often demonstrate their ability to produce a hit in under three minutes. However, the repetitive lyrics do get a little tiresome and the metaphors a little obvious with 'Tornado', which is disappointing, as the instrumentation is often so full of cinematic glory. The band also love a good ballad and here we're faced with 'Euphoria' and 'Paper Heart' which, thanks to some tinkling xylophones, echoing bass lines and the band's token guitars, allows Juanita to really shine. The key changes on 'Paper Heart' are particularly beautiful. It does however, slow the album down a little too much, almost squashing the energy the first few tracks had mustered.
Finishing with the grungey 'Original Sin' and 'Reverie' before ending with the slow-paced title track, this is a band back to their best. Confident song structures, accomplished, fearless vocals and beautifully put-together instrumentation, Heartstrings will coax the band's early fans into forgiving them for their previous offerings. Stick to the guitars guys, you sound wonderful.
(Drowned In Sound)
However, as has always been the way, there remains a blustery, and at times outright tempestuous pomp and show to Howling Bells, that ensures they continue to resonate with their audience. Theirs is one that may well have dwindled a little, but those who’ve stuck around have become increasingly rabid with time. And they’ll surely take solace in the rambunctious Possessed as much as they will the streaky, bleached Slowburn. But it’s the rip-roaring stomp of Reverie that is perhaps this record’s very best, Stein beginning: “I’ve come full circle, I’m here again/ Poison ready for the lion’s den/ I’ve made mistakes, they’re not the last/ You’ve not a future without a past.” And in embracing their altogether more macabre beginnings, Howling Bells have, here and there, put together a further reminder of how and why they first entered into our affections.
(Dots and Dashes)
Opener 'Paris' is a stadium-ready ode led by Juanita Stein's suitably elegant vocal, but 'Original Sin' is the album's true standout; delicate one minute, bruising the next thanks to Joel Stein cranking up his guitar during the choruses. Howling Bells aren't back to their best, but they're within touching distance.