I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment, which is why I continue my dive into corners of the promo bin untrammeled by more self-respecting reviewers. While my last foray into the depths brought back a surprisingly good collection of alt-metal songs, today’s entree is a bit less appetizing. Marking their ground somewhere between bluesy hard rock and ’90s death doom, Chasing Ghosts don’t sound like many other bands. When they’re on, These Hollow Gods proves the value of their morose concoction, an interesting offshoot of the sounds of Anathema and Katatonia. But Chasing Ghosts spend very little time “on” in this album.
The most egregious violator of this album’s quality is singer Nelson Cancini, who spends an astounding amount of time slurring and wandering around his target pitches. It’s not that he’s trying anything outside of his range, he just doesn’t seem to have a good sense of pitch at all. Furthermore, he is in possession of one of the most nu-metal-ready singing voices that ever did grace our Earth. Throw in a few backing vocal lines and reverb and you’ve got a grating performance at the center of the album. Particularly aggravating are Cancini’s performances on “From Depravity” and the title track, where his bluesy delivery only accentuates a tendency to yowl around the pitch instead of on it.
Also notable are odd swings in production between songs on These Hollow Gods. The title track sounds like a live recording with flimsy drums and an oddly placed lead guitar while “From Depravity” sports a beefy modern rock sound. Hearing them one after the other really undermines any atmosphere the album was building even though similar – though less extreme – fluctuations in the sound of These Hollow Gods pop up frequently. Between these swings in production quality and the singer’s poor delivery, it’s tough to find a moment in the album that doesn’t irritate or perplex me. “Fearless” pairs upbeat riffing with a vocal line that pivots between a messily executed low croon and a high shout. While the weird production and awkward singing contribute to a definite late-90s Katatonia vibe, that’s not a great aesthetic to chase.
That’s a shame, since the guitarists manage their duties well. Yes, some of the playing is lethargic, but this is intentional; these men are in the business of aping Katatonia and Anathema and do a damn fine job of it for the most part. “Dark Skies,” one of the more successful songs on the album, contrasts melodic leads with very understated verses, and the cherry on top is an improved delivery from Cancini, who sounds a lot better yelling than crooning. Closer “One Last Try” uses simplistic riffing to its advantage, and were it not for the dreadfully tinny drum sound and early ’90s synth work, it would come out to be a good song.
It’s not all bad news for Chasing Ghosts; the band have a good grasp of songwriting and with a more focused second album, I’m sure they would write much better material. I’m also sure that Cancini can improve a lot on his performance here, and that having an imperfect delivery won’t necessarily hamstring a band in this niche – after all, Jonas Renske sounded pretty weird for a very long time1. An album that I had hoped would sound like modern Katatonia sadly sounds more like ’90s Katatonia channeled through a maze of strange production decisions and less competent vocals. Ghostly or no, there’s no reason to chase this album down.