Them - Sweet HollowThe patient lies before me, cold and lifeless, the blue skin flayed back, exposing viscera painted crimson. To my side sits organ-filled jars, each one cataloged with dispassionate notes detailing a lifetime’s accumulation of damage and abuse. The corpse is silent but that’s OK, the scalpel in my hand has told me everything that I needed to know. As I sluice the body and its gruesome paraphernalia down the incinerator chute I’m suddenly taken by a thought, is it fair to judge a life under the microscope, sliced into pieces by the surgeon’s blade? Isn’t it better it be remembered as an individual in the flower of their youth?

This ghastly tableau illustrates my struggle with Them’s debut album Sweet Hollow, a pulpy pastiche of songs that’s infuriating when dissected by the critic’s pen but was also at times captivating when enjoyed as a living, breathing creature and not as a random assortment of limbs and entrails.

New the band may be, but the individual members are all seasoned veterans, most notably bassist Mike LePond from Symphony X and drummer Kevin Talley from Suffocation. Markus Ulrich (Lanfear) and Markus Johansson (Sylencer) are on six-string duties and Richie Seibel (also Lanfear) handles the keyboards. Vocalist Troy Norr’s recent experience moonlighting in a King Diamond tribute band informs what Sweet Hollow is all about: a concept album built around the protagonist KK Fossor (played by Norr) trying to retrieve his dead daughter from the clutches of evil. Reading the above you won’t be surprised to hear that the music is energetic, over-the-top self-indulgent pageantry stuffed to the gills with duelling solos, galloping chords, percussion disguised as artillery fire and a vocal performance so cheesy that those that are lactose intolerant would be well advised to steer clear.

Them 2016Despite the King Diamond name-dropping, the heavy focus on lead guitar steers the album closer to power metal and ends up drawing inspiration from Iced Earth, Helloween and Bark at the Moon-era Ozzy Osbourne. Though my DNA may be bleached of any musical ability even an ignoramus such as myself can recognize the immense talent on display and the second track “Forever Burns” is the perfect song to demonstrate this. Underpinned by Talley’s cascading drums, the music here is perfectly weighted, holding back enough to draw you in only to suddenly crackle with lurid neon solos that are at once both captivating and catchy.

Sadly “Forever Burns” is the only track on the album free of criticism as practically every other is stymied by dragging on well past the point of patience. The overripe nature of the tracks can be attributed to the individual musicians’ feverish desire to demonstrate their music bona fides. The hypnotizing bass in “Ghost in the Graveyard,” the electric atmosphere of ballad-laden “Dead of Night,” the vaudevillian “FeastEvil,” all undermined by musicians too concerned with pouring Gatorade over themselves in self-congratulation than to swallow their pride and pare back the music.

If only wanton bacchanalian excess was the album’s solitary sin, but Troy Norr’s vocals must be made to account. Norr typically bounces between a Matt Barlow mid-range and King Diamond falsettos and for the most part he sticks the landing with these, adding a real sense of power and colorful theatrics. Things start to unspool in the latter half of Sweet Hollow where Norr takes leave of his senses and employs coarse, tough-guy vocals reminiscent of Tourniquet’s Luke Easter, an unfavorable comparison by anyone’s metric. It’s incredibly off-putting and serves to emasculate the excellent music it’s bolted to. The dynamically limited production is also somewhat troubled, appearing at first punchy and dynamic with great separation, only to grate after extended exposure.

All of this would be enough to relegate Sweet Hollow into the fun-but-forgettable category, but every time I put my pen and notepad down and listen to the music as a collective whole I discover I quite enjoy myself. Yes, the aforementioned issues are still prevalent, but they recede into the background just enough for the album to not only be agreeable but at times downright arresting. Them have the potential to produce something truly special in the future, so long as they can keep their over indulgent tendencies in check and banish any trace of those odious try-hard vocals. The body may be cold but when I close my eyes I can still picture a life full of joy, just enough at least to turn the corners of my mouth into a subtle smile.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Empire Records
Websites: them6.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/thembandofficial
Releases Worldwide: September 30th, 2016

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  • I just like that the singer dresses like I do, sans the onion on the belt, as was the style of my youth.

    • [not a Dr]

      Red, or yellow?

    • Oscar Albretsen

      Halloween’s coming up. He’s getting MAD candy this year!

  • GardensTale

    These guys must take the prize for “most infuriating band to find information for”. Especially since there was a Van Morrison band of the same name.

    • [not a Dr]

      And some people, like Dr Landau and Mrs. Diamond, just won’t believe that there ever was a “Them”.

  • Thomas Grann

    Great review. It was a pleasure to read.

    • Treble Yell

      Cheers. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Satthia

    Opeth review now or we riot.

    • SuzyC

      I suspect we’ve all made up our minds on this issue already.

      • Oscar Albretsen

        I just posted a much more wordy post that said pretty much the same thing. Sorry about that!

    • Kronos

      Don your helmets, boys.

    • Oscar Albretsen

      Honestly, I’m not as concerned about it as I was, because I’ve already made my mind upabout the album – I LOVE it! So, if they don’t, not the end of the world. Opeth’s last 3 albums definitely aren’t like those metal masterpieces they used to release. This one took MANY listens to start enjoying. I’m just kinda curious now as to who’s doing the review. Is it AMG himself?

    • I’ve actually been awaiting this review (although silently and patiently) as I’ve given up a bit on Opeth, and because I knew this K.D. worship would end up in the greed hands of one of them AMGers sooner or later.

      The result doesn’t surprise me. I find the music rather amusing, but a tad too gentle and a few tads too far behind King Diamond’s Them to be awfully impressing. An okay release on its own, though

    • The Unicorn

      SHIELDS UP!!!!!!!!

  • metalcasket

    Fantastic, spot-on review. While the embedded track did have me thinking “If this is THIS good, how bad can the rest be?”, listening to the couple of tracks available on Bandcamp makes me wonder what some Sumerlands-like editing could’ve done for the album as a whole. Those tracks got gratingly annoying by the time they ended. :/

  • JL

    I actually like the embedded track.

    • [not a Dr]

      Not only do I like it, but it will make the perfect gateway band to gradually introduce the faint of ear to the glory of King Diamond.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      It’s no King, but I’ve been spinning this a lot. It’s fun, even if it’s not great.

  • Jason

    As a typography nerd, that lyric video is hurtful. The track itself isn’t bad. It may warrant further investigation.

    • [not a Dr]

      I usually don’t care that much about typography, but I feel deeply confused by the decisions taken about the fonts.

  • [not a Dr]

    When you wrote King Diamond falsettos, you were going to write treble yells, weren’t you?

  • Ferrous Beuller

    This is disheartening to read. King Diamond is a particular favourite of mine; I was hoping this would be much better. Oh well, Abigail on repeat it is…

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Nothing will ever be as good as the original King.

      • Ferrous Beuller

        Preach.

      • Except Mercyful Fate.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          I feel that is still the original King. But fine… you detail-seeking, son of a gorilla.

    • [not a Dr]

      That may just be bad product placement: If you don’t want this to be King Diamond, it’s quite enjoyable.

      • Ferrous Beuller

        This is very true. Though, I felt much the same when Gruesome appeared with Savage Land; I listened to it, didn’t mind it, and then put Leprosy on.

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    Album of the Fucking Year!!

    • I literally stopped reading the actual review to see what you were going to say about it, and you did not disappoint.

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        I feel I may be getting a bit too predictable.

        • Haha nah. After all you didn’t write the review.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Ah ha!! Good point! That’s only because the “All things King goes to Dr. Grier” filter in the promo department got screwed up. This bug has now been fixed and the responsible party has been put on toilet duty.

          • Such flagrant abuse of your non-existent power!

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Right???

          • Treble Yell

            Joke’s on you, I was never removed from toilet duty!

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Joke’s on YOU! I chugged a whole gallon of milk in 20 seconds. Enjoy cleaning that up…

          • Treble Yell

            That’s what I get for tempting fate…

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            By the way, great review. I’m a sucker for this shit, but your score is fitting. I may have pushed it up to a 3.0 because it’s fun for me, but 2.5/5.0 is probably correct.

          • Treble Yell

            Thanks, appreciate the feedback. Througout the review process I vacillated between a 2.5 and a 3.0 but everytime I found myself enjoying the music it would promptly outstay its welcome. Those horrid gruff vocals really didn’t help either.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Hahahah they are definitely not the best… Regardless, your decision to grade down was a wise one.

          • [not a Dr]

            I bet you’re dying for a cup of tea…

  • Wilhelm

    This just sounds like a band trying really hard to copy another band verbatim but failing miserably because there is no other king diamond, certainly not these guys.

    • I followed you until “verbatim”. I agree that Them (the band) attempts to take after Them (the album) , but not as a perfect clone. I think these guys know better than that. But, okay, I follow you this far.
      To say that they failing miserably, though… They could have succeed a bit more in musical expression, by being a wee bit rougher/harder. The songs here are not on par with the original, of course, but absolutely decent nonetheless. Vocals… As you’re pointing out, it goes without saying that there’s only one King Diamond, but still I kind of enjoy this bands take on the vocals as well.

      • Wilhelm

        Sorry, I just hear a band ripping off king diamond, going through the motions, add to that it’s 2016 and the digital production and compressed mastering makes this sound even less appealing. You can copy entombed, katatonia, and helloween but there are just certain bands you can’t ripoff imo, one of them is KD.

        • You make a valid point. Thus, I’m backing down. (Wouldn’t you love to hear Trump say that?)
          But seriously, your opinion is valid, but as they’ve released an alright album attempting to emulate or rejuvenate late 80’s KD, obviously without attempting to hide it, it’s not a miserable failure in my book. A heresy though, mayhaps.
          Besides, you are probably under the influence of “them” ;)

  • myarky

    Awesome; for me this is the best thing since Give Me Your Soul.

    I love the story, and LePond is incredible.

    I’m eagerly awaiting the new King Diamond album, but this slides rin nicely nicely between Give Me Your Soul and Opus Eponymous.

    Well done Troy.

  • Tofu muncher

    Listening to the embedded track took me back to those pimply days when I’d secretly read lyrics of Annihilator’s Alison Hell, KD’s them, Helloween’s Halloween et. al. in the middle of the school session.