Dead Planet by Hollow Earth

Release date: December 2, 2016
Label: Good Fight Music

Admittedly I haven’t done much research into this, but Hollow Earth do seem to be an unusual bunch. Can you name me any other totally sci-fi obsessed metalcore bands – answers on a postcard marked “Aaaarrrggghh, our planet is dying, we must explore alternative galaxies!” to the usual address.

Okay, that sounds quite flippant, but I find much to be admired in the band’s ambition and very focused approach. Without giving too much away as to the lyrics on Dead Planet, it’s clear that we are dealing with a concept album with a well mapped narrative, that’s tightly edited, whilst dealing with some pretty big ideas. In fact you could say the concept and the story are being contained and restrained by Hollow Earth. I get the feeling that if you could sit down with the band and go through the tracks with them that the ideas would expand out to mind-bending proportions. I also mean, in a less generous spirit, that the band’s style doesn’t always help you grasp the intricacies of the story. My one criticism of the album is one levelled at other experimental and progressive heavy bands who employ extreme metal/punk vocalists (see Fucked Up), which is that the rich, expressive music is sometimes blunted by a bloke screaming his lungs out semi-incoherently. Saying that, Steve Muczynski is a vocalist of immense controlled force, and what he does he does brilliantly, combining with the fantastic band to pin you to the wall with their sonic intensity. However, what elevates this album above just being another vulgar display of power is the musicality and melodic savvy of the band, especially the guitar playing of Mike Moynihan and Sean Reed. Nearly every track has a strong melodic guitar line running through the sturm und drang of Hollow Earth’s almost sludgy attack. Their clean playing acts as an anchor and a guide, drawing the listener’s ear onward, buoyed by, I guess, the optimistic horizons they hint at.

I’m not sure how much optimism really exists within the tale told on Dead Planet, a concept started on the the three track EP Parting Remains, released earlier this year, but listening to the album never feels like an uphill struggle. I found Parting Remains only partially thrilling, the central track ‘Beyond Celestial Limits’ is ace, but the other two tracks just sort of hang about in an intense or angry vacuum. This time, aided by great production by Misery Signals’ Greg Thomas, the whole affair has a fantastic, propulsive energy that draws you in, even if like me, you find some of the music bordering on grim extremity. Indeed, you may see the inclusion of guest vocalists on Dead Planet and perhaps deduce that extra light and shade is provided by their talents. Well whilst the extra vocal styles do add something to their particular tracks, it is more shade than light. Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder adds a scratchy, almost death metal style backing to ‘From Empyrean to Damnation’ and John Pettibone of Heiress doesn’t really add anything except more lung-power to the super vicious video single ‘Of Steel and Stone’.

The wonderful Tad Doyle is credited as a guest on ‘Revolutions in Refracted Light’, but I am not sure exactly what his contribution is. The opening, soothing vocal lines sound remarkably like Chino Moreno and the huge, airy liquidity of the riffs are a total homage (I’m being kind) to the Deftones. It does add that much hoped for change in tone, but it will put a wry smile of the face of any Deftones fan.

Well, enough about the comparisons, let’s come back to what Hollow Earth do well, and you know if you want to hear a great example of that, go straight to the final track of the album ‘To an Earth Abandoned’. A slow and solemn guitar line and subtle, willowy keyboards pick out the main theme and then are punctured by Muczynski’s roar. Then the trick is repeated as an instrumental passage, with vaguely heroic tones is taken up, with clean hopeful voices rising in the background. And then it all comes together, blending all the moods into a crescendo of anger and wonderment combined. It’s stirring stuff.

Those looking for the heavier end  of the band’s sound should look to ‘Setting Teeth’, which still mixes all the shifting dynamics, metalcore breaks, atmospherics keys and galloping metal riffs with some real bloodcurdling stuff by Muczynski as he sings of dying a horrible death on a polluted planet. The aforementioned ‘Of Steel and Stone’ is another absolute triumph of artistry and thuggish, headbanging brutality.

In truth, there’s nary a duff moment on Dead Planet, it improves with every listen and draws you towards itself with a terrible and impressive gravity.

Listen to the track ‘The Harbinger of Existence’ exclusively here:

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