A funny thing happened to metalcore in the last six years or so. After the Killswitch Engages and As I Lay Dyings of the world spent years churning out Gothenburg riffs and tough-guy breakdowns like cheap beers at a frat party, metalcore bands finally listened to Periphery and started latching on to this new thing called “djent.” Groups like I, The Breather and Beyond the Shore realized it was much easier to stack chug upon chug as opposed to scraping from the bottom of the harmonic minor barrel, and thus a new generation of metalcore bands was born who eyed Periphery like they were the new Metallica. In some cases, it was good (This Or the Apocalypse), in other cases it was lackluster (pretty much all the rest). With few exceptions, I myself haven’t heard a new metalcore band influenced by At the Gates since before I started growing chest hair, and thus I think it’s safe to say metalcore today just isn’t what it used to be.
St. Louis quartet Hollow are the perfect example of this new school of metalcore. Debut Home Is Not Where the Heart Is doesn’t give one palm-muted fuck about the melodeath playbook. Instead, this album chugs. It chugs like it’s 1995 and Destroy.Erase.Improve just came out last week. It chugs like the songwriting process involved writing “chug” on two mirrors and then turning them to face each other. It chugs like it’s closing time at the local dive bar and it needs to finish its last Miller High Life before getting thrown out on the streets.
I would love to report that Hollow worked in some originality amidst all the chugging, but that’s largely not the case. Vocals consist primarily of mid-range screams that sound passionate but familiar, spouting lyrics about a post-apocalyptic wasteland as if that trope hadn’t already been beaten to death by pop culture in the last decade. In what’s perhaps record time for the genre, it takes only 36 seconds before opener “Coward King” delivers the album’s first clean chorus, painfully reminiscent of early Atreyu. For those actually into that sort of thing, fret not, because Home features plenty more refrains whose vocal lines would have sounded old halfway through the Bush administration. Adding insult to injury, tracks like “Dis/connect” and “The Wicked” attempt to embellish their proceedings with shrill, wonky synthesizers that sound just as unwelcome as when The Browning used them to create the horror known as EDM-infused deathcore.
In Hollow’s defense, not everything is bad. Early highlight “Anomaly” rides on a set of rapid guitar melodies and a lock-tight groove that easily lends itself to some subconscious head bobbing. Penultimate track “Alpha/Omega” stands out for its surprisingly catchy guitar line and particularly pissed-off vocals, with screamer Josh Miller roaring through lines like “I am the apex predator!” as if he’s a hungry Tyrannosaurus with a nest of hatchlings to feed. Home’s running time is also a trim 35 minutes, and actually, features a decent amount of variety when the chugs subside. “No Offense” opens with a genuine mathcore riff, aforementioned “Alpha” and closer “(Null)” feature some interesting Fiction-era Dark Tranquillity keyboards, and late-album epic “Tonguespeak” mellows things out with soft clean picking and gentle singing that later explode into huge chords and squealing leads.
Still, the facts remain: the chugging is monotonous, the choruses go from tolerable to outright annoying on repeat listens, and tracks like “The American Dream” are largely devoid of interesting ideas. Unsurprisingly, the production is loud, with boomy guitars that smash one’s face like a sledgehammer with “DR4” written on the side. While I applaud Hollow for their tight performances and youthful vigor, the band need to spend more time writing actual riffs rather than chugging like they’re trying to drink the last of the milk before their little sisters wake up and demand some for their Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Home may not be where the heart is, but it isn’t here either.
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Releases Worldwide: June 9th, 2017