I first encountered Sweden’s Hollow when I found their 1997 debut Modern Cathedral in a local record store and bought it solely because of the cool artwork. It featured an interesting blend of traditional and power metal with a slightly proggy sheen, and though it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster release, it had a few songs that really stuck with me. Fast forward to 1999 and the still very unheralded act returned to drop a truly stunning followup on an unsuspecting world with their sophomore release, Architect of Mind. Using a heavy but highly melodic take on prog-power similar to Pyramaze and Queensrÿche, Architect examined the then new problem of internet addiction and how the internet was isolating mankind. The band did this in way that was gripping, beautiful and surprisingly touching, and the album became an instant favorite of mine that still retains its ability to impress and captivate me to this day1. After such a musical triumph, I fully expected Hollow to become a well-known act, but it seems no one else took much notice of Architect and the band vanished without another release. Imagine my surprise to see a band with the same name appear in the promo sump some 20 years later with their very, very long-awaited followup to Architect of Mind. A lot has changed since 1999. Founder Andreas Stoltz now operates as a one man band, handling everything except drums, but the core sound of Hollow is still there all these years later. Thankfully, the commitment to compelling topical content also survived the decades of silence, as Between Eternities of Darkness tackles important issues like bullying, teen isolation and the struggle to be a parent in modern times. So was this worth the excruciatingly long wait?
Right out of the gate opener “Travel Far” sounds like it picks up right where Architect left off. The exact same stylistic approach is utilized, carried by the unique vocals of Stoltz and his crunchy, heavy guitar-work. It’s everything I loved about the band brought back from the dead and it’s odd to hear it resurrected again after so long. Other tracks like “Fate of the Jester” and “Shadow World” also plum familiar waters with writing very much like what the band did in the late 90s. Both songs deliver accessible moments and slick songcraft, along with grim reflections on the kinds of problems that can destroy a person and a family. “Shadow World” in particular feels like a lost cut from Architect and really resonates with me, especially at chorus time. Other songs however, like “Down” and “Pull of the Undertow,” are not quite as well fleshed out, and though still listenable and interesting, they feel a bit watered down and flat.
Luckily, the bulk of the material retains some of the Stoltz magic and things are kept engaging and accessible. The final three songs form a kind of depressive suite about a parent coping with the sudden loss of a child and it’s presented in such a raw, emotional way that it’s both hard to listen to and equally hard to turn off. This is a morose little concept album, designed to be experienced in one sitting, and at a lean 44 minutes, this is a manageable feat. Closing cut “Say Farewell” all but guarantees you don’t walk away from it in a positive mood, but the emotional impact speaks to the quality of the writing and performance.
As the man responsible for nearly aspect of the album, Stoltz does a good job creating his bleak story. His voice hasn’t aged a day since 1999 and he still reminds me of a more emo Lance King (ex-Pyramaze, ex-Balance of Power). His guitar-work still impresses, relying on heavy riffing to drive the music, then weaving in minor doses of contemplative prog around the fringes. The only real downside to the album is the consistency of the songwriting, with a few songs failing to grab the listener as firmly as they might.
I never expected to hear anything new from Hollow, so I’m thrilled to see the man/band back from limbo and in good form. I cannot recommend their Architect of Mind album strongly enough, and I view it as one of the best prog-power albums ever, and one of the most criminally overlooked releases of all time. I can recommend Between Eternities of Darkness as well, and though it doesn’t approach the level of mastery of its predecessor, it’s still a unique and unusual album full of authentic emotion and smart songcraft. Dig into this band’s stuff. You won’t be disappointed.