Review & Full Album Premiere: Hollow Leg, Civilizations

hollow leg civilizations

[Click play above to stream Hollow Leg’s Civilizations in its entirety. Album is out Jan. 25 on Argonauta Records.]

Hollow Leg‘s fourth album, Civilizations, brings the Floridian sludge-plus outfit past the 10-year mark since getting together in 2008, and as their first new release for Argonauta Records following a reissue of 2016’s Crown (review here) that combined it with the subsequent 2017 EP, Murder (review here), it brings their sound to previously-untouched levels of breadth. And the more one looks back over their four records, the clearer it becomes that’s been the case all along. Their 2010 debut, Instinct (discussed here), and its 2013 follow-up, Abysmal (review here), set a tone in raw sludge metal aggression, with a largesse of groove and the enviable roar of Scott Angelacos‘ growling vocals. But even then there was a progression happening from one to the next, and Civilizations is the furthest point yet along the line those early outings started.

It isn’t every band who can claim to still be moving forward a decade later, but Angelacos, guitarist/backing vocalist Brent Lynch, bassist Tom Crowther and drummer John Stewart (who came aboard for the last album), continue a process of becoming with Civilizations that finds them still holding to the nastiness of their roots but finding new footing as well on yet-uncovered ground in terms of arrangements, cleaner vocals, more melodic leads, and on the not-actually-an-intro “Intro,” a gong. All of this — even the gong — makes the nine-track/43-minute long-player unquestionably the most accomplished work of Hollow Leg‘s career, and listening to the Clutch-style patterning in “Akasha” and the chanting backups and floating guitar solo in the back end of the earlier “Dirt Womb,” the conscious intent to try new ways of composing and executing their material is made plain. They always have been and still are an aggressive band, in tone, rhythm and construction, but they’ve never sounded as dynamic as they do on Civilizations and even a piece like the relatively straightforward and suitably biting “Hunter and the Hunted” conveys the growth they’ve so confidently undertaken.

As to whether or not Civilizations marks how far Hollow Leg will go, it’s not a question that can be answered with any certainty until they put out something else, but there’s no doubt it’s the most realized work they’ve done, setting its terms quickly on the 7:11 opener “Litmus,” which begins with Stewart‘s drums beating a march soon joined by feedback and the foreboding central riff. Immediately the album wants to challenge its audience, and it does so by unfurling the first of its choice, rolling grooves that engages in a fashion somewhat contrary to the name they’ve given it. Angelacos‘ bellow arrives about two minutes in and is in fine form — raw of throat but able to evoke a notion of melody as he demands; a correct argument against those prejudiced to harsh vocal approaches — and as the band rolls fluidly through the midpoint of the track, the sense of patience is subtle but indicative of the build happening.

Stewart gets the cowbelling out of the way as “Litmus” works through its apex prior to echoing out on residual swirling noise, and “Dirt Womb” and “Mountains of Stone” pick up to complete a compelling opening salvo that presents much of what’s in store as the album continues, whether in the aforementioned airy solo of “Dirt Womb” — the band cite a Cave In influence, and one can hear it there — or the way in which “Mountains of Stone” moves through its verse and chorus structure en route to a hypnotic but quiet finish. That serves as a lead-in for the two-minute “Black Moon,” which pairs clean-sung lines directly with Lynch‘s open-sounding guitar, as well as percussion and an earthy psychedelia that, as just the shortest track on Civilizations, shows how much Hollow Leg have added to their reach throughout. As might be expected, it leads to the intense beginning of “Hunter and the Hunted,” but even the push there is affected by the atmosphere brought to bear in “Black Moon,” and the same holds true as side B of Civilizations takes hold.

Tracks are arranged longest-to-shortest leading into “Hunter and the Hunted,” and shortest-to-longest after, so its place is obviously no mistake, and in that way, the subsequent “Intro” may indeed be leading the way into the second half of Civilizations, but it’s still more substantial than tagging it an “intro” might convey. Rather, it seems a weighted complement to “Black Moon,” pushing the growled vocals deeper into the mix to make the guitar and bass sound all the more consuming, and while it doesn’t play through a complete verse-chorus structure, there’s still plenty going on as it shifts into “Chimera,” which likewise answers the hook of “Mountains of Stone” with one of its own, tapping into Southern metal riffing in a way Hollow Leg seem largely to hold at arm’s length, and making use of backing shouts to add flourish to the arrangement.

“Chimera” is perhaps meaner than “Mountains of Stone,” but similar in its overarching intent unto its last push, which cuts to silence quickly to let the initial feedback of “Akasha” take hold prior to unfolding a particularly satisfying nod in its early going while giving Lynch room for some exploration later on. Is it correspondingly parallel to “Dirt Womb?” Maybe. At very least it can be read that way, but it also has an ambience of its own as it comes apart at the end and closes with a brief swell of noise as a transition into the finale and longest track, “Exodus” — no less a purposeful title than was “Litmus.” At 7:54, “Exodus” is the longest song on Civilizations and showcases a longer-form of work that surfaced on Crown and here finds a balance with the more grounded structures. As Angelacos seems to be telling the story of leaving earth behind presumably after having fubar’ed it to such a degree, the swinging rhythm leads the way into a layered solo and a vague spoken part/sample that marks a final return to the chorus and an ending on guitar that answers not only that of “Litmus,” but “Akasha” as well.

And it’s not really until it’s over that one gets the sense of just how complete Civilizations is, how much it’s not just a collection of songs, but a purposeful, full-album execution. It may be the work Hollow Leg have been building toward, and it certainly sounds in the present like a culmination of their efforts, but hearing “Blue Moon” and the greater depths to their arrangements generally, there’s nothing to indicate in these tracks that the band will stagnate from here. They’ve worked on an every-three-years pace since 2010 — that is, albums in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019 — so we’ll probably cross into the 2020s before hearing from them again, but even as Hollow Leg recount a troubled course of humanity, they give hope for the future of their own making.

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2 Responses to “Review & Full Album Premiere: Hollow Leg, Civilizations

  1. jose humberto says:

    Im ashamed to admit that I had that Cinderella t-shirt, years before my conversion to Stoner and Doom, of course I was thirteen back then

    :(

  2. jose humberto says:

    I can say that I went from left to right (according the pic)

    LOL

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