The most widely known motto by the late legendary movie reviewer Roger Ebert is probably “It’s not about what [it’s] about, it’s how it’s about it.” It’s an elegant way to say that a self-effacing B-movie may be just as (or more) successful as a grandiose historical epic at doing what it set out to do. Similarly, metal albums can be intended as highfalutin, genre-defining epics and fail miserably, or be highly entertaining and successful at simple and straightforward goals. The curiously named Floridian outfit Hollow Leg is among the latter category. Judging by their newest platter Civilizations, they’re excellent at doing a few simple things very well: being loud enough to knock God from the heavens, being heavy enough to grind his corpse into a fine powder, and being goddamn groovy enough to raise the dead from Hell and bring the Devil with them.
Broadly speaking, Hollow Leg are a modern disciple of the Eyehategod and Crowbar schools of thought. The pacing is mid-to-slow, the guitars crunchy, the bass throbbing and reverberating. The vocals are filthy, a cracked and bleeding throat still bellowing defiantly at the world he disdains so very much, but with lyrics like the apocalyptic opening line—”What we’ve just witnessed must surely be the end”—still easily decipherable. The drums are bass-heavy, frequently tribal in nature, and drive the deliberate pace like whips on a rowing slave. All this serves the dual purpose of being motherfucking heavy and fatherfucking1 groovy. Each song largely revolves around a single riff, carefully calibrated to hypnotize you into headbanging so hard the shock waves crumble any building you happen to be in and some you aren’t. No polyrhythms or lengthy jams on this platter: the whole disc can, and will, be fully appreciated on the first spin. It’s simple, it’s catchy, it hates the world with the fire of a thousand evil Gods and it is absolutely crushing.
Though when I say “the whole disc” and “each song,” this comes with a caveat. The sixth track, curiously named “Intro,” wanders about for three minutes without going anywhere. Worse, “Black Moon” is a clean-sung, partially acoustic interlude that sticks out like a sore thumb. It may have been added for variety’s sake, but this is a prime example of a band who benefit from momentum more than changing it up. “Black Moon” brings said momentum to a screeching halt and tossing it immediately improves the album immeasurably.
But all that doesn’t matter, because every other moment on Civilizations is just too goddamn fun to care. The music has a ritualistic air, thanks to the spectacular shamanic growl and tom-heavy pounding drums. It takes no effort to imagine this in a ceremony for some apocalyptic cult, one where only the manliest men will thrive. The riffs are beautifully bludgeoning, one after another, and all this is joined by a production that highlights every strength on the album. The guitar sound is dense for maximum impact, evoking the pound of the sledgehammer more than the rip of the chainsaw. The bass is perfectly placed in the mix, actively supporting the guitars rather than just providing a backdrop, and the drums reverberate in the bones, cascading like avalanches. It’s a testament to the producer that an album this heavy and immediate still sounds this rich and layered.
Civilizations does not set out to push envelopes, to wax philosophically about life and death, to weave a magic spell that makes you think about your place in the universe. It doesn’t even do anything new or different, as the template for this sort of music is a familiar one. What Civilizations does do is pump a ridiculous load of adrenaline and testosterone directly into my brain stem. Civilizations makes me feel capable of bludgeoning a mountain into rubble with a wooden club. Civilizations is dangerous for me to listen to in transit, as I feel the constant urge to full-body headbang regardless of my surroundings. Despite a few moments where they lose focus, Hollow Leg speak directly to the violent caveman in all of us. Better listen. Loudly.