Hollow Leg, Crown: Serpentine (Plus Album Stream)

hollow leg crown

[Click play above to stream Hollow Leg’s Crown in full. Album is out March 4 (that’s tomorrow) on Argonauta Records.]

Floridian sludgers Hollow Leg return with an awaited third full-length, Crown. Issued via Argonauta Records as the follow-up to 2013’s Abysmal (review here), the album isn’t actually late in arriving — it was three years between the band’s 2010 debut, Instinct, and Abysmal as well — but two years ago, the four-piece offered up the digital single God Eater (posted here), and with it they teased a shift in approach toward more rocking, less overwhelmingly aggressive fare. The central question going into Crown, then, is how that pans out, and it’s been an answer two years in coming.

The seven-track/44-minute Crown is indeed a forward step from where Hollow Leg were three years ago, and while it still brims with thickened intensity and is still definitively sludge, it also showcases a more individualized approach from the band. That’s not as much fun as “it’s as heavy as the balls of a ten-ton swamp elephant” or whatever other testicular hyperbole you might see about it, but it’s more admirable. Any group can be heavy. What Hollow Leg — the lineup of vocalist Scott Angelacos, guitarist/vocalist Brent Lynch, bassist Tom Crowther and drummer Tim Creter — have crafted on their third full-length is a cohesive sound that is decidedly their own, that works on a serpent-minded theme befitting its cover art, that expands further stylistically as it goes and that, yes indeed, is quite heavy. They’ve always had more going for them than the average why-were-we-pissed-off-again sludge band, and Crown affirms their place ahead of the genre pack in complexity and conceptual depth.

Opener “Seaquake” sets a high standard for both riffs and the apparent narrative thread running across the tracks. Underwater seismic activity is a hell of a place to start, in other words, but Hollow Leg unfurl the first of many lumbering progressions to come as “Seaquake” and the subsequent, more Southernly riffed “Coils,” comprise an opening duo introducing the mood and breadth of much of the record — the overarching vibe of patiently delivered heft that will factor into even Crown‘s most raging moments, as on the initial stretch of “Serpent in the Ice” to come. They toy some with pace between “Seaquake” and “Coils” as Angelacos brings us into the band’s world of snakes and other shouted who-knows-what, but it’s with “Electric Veil” that the band begins to depart from the more straightforward roll of both the opening cuts, starting out quiet and creeping before kicking into full-tone and familiar burl and playing fluidly with a back and forth across the song’s 6:49.

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Lynch takes a noisy solo in the second half over a beat-down roll that gives way to a surprising bit of well-now-that-we’ve-done-that-here’s-this shuffle at the end. Not exactly out of nowhere or out of context, but still unexpected, and a quick highlight to the fuzzier tones in the guitar and bass used this time around as compared to Abysmal. It’s not necessarily a huge leap, as though to make one believe it’s a different outfit, but it’s enough to distinguish Crown from Hollow Leg‘s past work, and that only becomes more apparent as the centerpiece interlude “Atra” takes hold with a kind of mini-“Planet Caravan” vibe, marked out by quiet background percussion and didgeridoo, acoustic guitar leading with a meditative figure that builds some tension across its truncated course, but does much atmospherically to enhance the proceedings overall.

To put that into perspective, Abysmal also had an interlude near its middle, but it was much less a departure, and the material around it — though the album was shorter on the whole than is Crown — was far less expansive, whether that’s “Electric Veil” before, which nods a bit at earliest Clutch in its underlying swing, or the nine-minute “Serpent in the Ice” after, which is Crown‘s itself-ing achievement for how it pulls together a coherent motion through big tempo changes and stomping punctuation. The early going, fast, the later reaches, slow and doomed, it’s an engaging summary of Hollow Leg‘s efforts toward a richer sound — one which I’ll gladly argue they attain throughout. A noisy guitar finish for “Serpent in the Ice” is followed by the quiet beginning of “Seven Heads,” shorter at seven minutes but still longer than any of the first four tracks on the record, and more patient in its chug, topped by echoing gutturalisms, as it rides its central groove for the duration; an exercise in nod given further breadth by a spacious lead after the halfway point.

Its amp noise hums — not screeches, hums — on a quiet fade into closer “New Cult,” which crashes in to roll its own molten motion, the lyrics having presumably arrived as their resolution in some serpentine demagoguery. The finale breaks about midway through and Creter‘s snare and Lynch‘s fuzz build back into the riff that will serve as their leadout over “New Cult”‘s final minutes, but the hook of the closer is delivered again and proves deceptively memorable on repeat visits. Angelacos joins Lynch‘s last, somewhat more extended solo, but it does wind up being the guitar that finishes out, on a last, suitably ambient fade that once again speaks to an increased focus on setting a mood as much as bludgeoning with heft. Throughout Crown, that at least partial shift serves the band remarkably well, and demonstrates a genuine creative growth outward from their beginnings more than half a decade ago without sacrificing the edge that has given their work to-date such impact. Also it’s very, very heavy.

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One Response to “Hollow Leg, Crown: Serpentine (Plus Album Stream)”

  1. Jimmy says:

    Just sounds like Clutch to me.

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