Overall Score: 8/10 Vocals: 9/10 Musicianship: 7/10 Songwriting: 8/10 Pros: Original enough to stand out from the sludge crowd Cons: Not quite enough great riffs throughout
“What we’ve just witnessed, must surely be the end” Well, happy new year, Hollow Leg. That’s the opening line off the opening track ‘Litmus’ from the Floridian quartet’s new album Civilizations, soon to be released on Argonauta Records. Over the ten years of the sludge metal crews career they have slowly been honing their sound, and across recent releases, the EP, Crown (2016) and LP, Murder (2017) incremental changes have been obvious. The band have gone from the basic, four guys making an ugly noise template towards more textured, nuanced soundscapes, whilst retaining enough gruff, crusty, metal obnoxiousness to keep the most demanding of noise-freaks on board.
Civilizations, whilst not exactly a concept album, certainly comes with some over-riding themes of large scale tragedy, exodus and extinction. The songs bear the knowledge that all dynasties and empires, from Mesopotamia to the Mitchell brothers, will someday be naught, lost to the mists of time. Always decent story-tellers the band really stretch out here, subtly attempting to reach widescreen panoramas through clever use of sonics and discreet samples. Check out closing tune, ‘Exodus’ with its bleak guitar tones, moving into titanic riffs and typically manic and harsh vocal from Scott Angelacos. There’s something epic in its intensity and propulsive unstoppable groove as Angelacos growls “Earth is… no longer visible” you get a real sense of drama and the idea that this is a last gasp escape is made plain. The sparing use of, what sounds like mission control samples adds to the realness of the situation, so that what is, basically a rather grim sci-fi sludge banger has an extra emotional heft. Speaking of sci-fi sludge, this track reminds me of another ‘Hollow’ band, Hollow Earth, which is one weird coincidence, surely.
The press release with this album comes with the usual wild claims, but the factoid that the band is influenced by Judas Priest is born out on several songs, especially the mid-paced swagger of ‘Hunter and the Hunted’. More normally Hollow Leg call to mind the giants of the stoner and sludge metal pantheon, and it’s no surprise that the more they sound like my favourites Down (‘Akasha’), the more I like them, and the more they sound like Crowbar the more I find them turgid and forgettable. On ‘Chimera’ they manage the neat trick of being at their most heavy AND their most groovy, as you find yourself headbanging and moving your butt at the same time, a skill they probably picked up from listening to Clutch.
Most impressive of all is the bands growing confidence, resulting in some really fine, leftfield playing, especially from guitarist Brent Lynch who has adopted a distinctive less-is-more style, with solos utilising the bare minimum of notes. Witness his playing on the excellent ‘Mountains of Stone’ – when the verse breaks down his simple sustain heavy playing creates a beautifully sleek and stark landscape as Angelacos rages “Better to die alone than be a part of your world” before the band brings the song to an elegiac close with an acoustic guitar.
As previously mentioned not every moment of every song hits home, but there is something in each to enjoy, and perhaps unusually for this genre of music, it is the cleverer, more artful touches that really make it, rather than just a bunch of filthy riffs and a bad attitude. We may all ultimately be doomed, but on this showing there’s plenty more to come from Hollow Leg.
Civilizations is out today (25th January 2019) on Argonauta Records.