One of the
only neat things about this angry metal gig is how you can select an album to review and within a spin or two have a pretty good guess as to which of these other cretins will enjoy said album.1 Today I present to you The Holeum‘s somber sophomore escapade, Sublime Emptiness, with the strong suspicion that our silverbackedest scribe will scoff this stuff up. You see, when he’s not busy fawning over yesteryear’s sounds and He-Man adorned album art, our be grudgingly toleratedloved Steel has a taste for gloomy goodness a la Ghost Brigade, In Mourning, Rapture, et al that strongly correlates with my Muppety enamorment with melancholic metal music; the dude gets down to some truly upstanding dour ‘n doomy acts, and I’ll be his uncle if he — and you, if you’ve an ear for this sort of thing — doesn’t find this album easing the pain of a Ghost Brigade-less world.
So yeah, if you hadn’t guessed, in its thickest, heaviest moments, Sublime Emptiness is super similar to the sordid, sludge-spattered stylings of Ghost Brigade doing their best Cult of Luna impression. Crushing walls of distorted guitars and thundering drums collide and churn together, burying listeners in blistering tides of molten, melancholic magma. When these Spaniards opt to kick things down a notch,2 things take on a more Katatonic tone, straddling a thin, dark line between doom and prog a la Varaha‘s lightest moments, with vocals recalling a more restrained version of Mikael Stanne’s soulful crooning. The Holeum wield airy minimalism in one hand and world flattening heaviness in the other, delivering a well-calculated one-two punch that would bring a lesser Muppet to his knees. Mind you, though these dudes abide by a Ghost Brigade approved playbook, The Holeum‘s vibe is generally more wrathful than sadboi, allowing them to still seem like themselves while they try on someone else’s sound.
Much of The Holeum‘s success at creating something different with Ghost Brigade‘s sonic ingredients comes from changing the portions of their recipe. While latter-day Ghost Brigade seemed to strive for a sense of equilibrium between their heavy and clean components, often shifting dynamics when transitioning from verse to chorus and such, The Holeum tend to keep things at 11 and use their cleaner elements more for strategic emphasis and pacing. The tracks on Sublime Emptiness typically average around six minutes and don’t necessarily adhere to a traditional verse-chorus formula, allowing any tonal transitions to feel like natural progressions rather than arbitrary scheduled shifts. Since you never know quite when they’re coming, the lapses into lulls and limited aggression found within opener “Obsidiana” or the Antarktish “Drake Equation” are that much more effective in their quiet respective presences; it’s a safe bet that any given song will occasionally reduce itself to a serenely seething simmer, yet Sublime Emptiness effectively evades any formulaic dullness with its engaging songwriting.
While said songwriting successfully avoids formulaic compositions for the greater good,3 things do have a tendency to stay locked in one sludgy groove or other for perhaps longer than is necessary. For the most part, I’m happy to defend the band and cite the need to occasionally sustain momentum in order for the penultimate moments to deliver their maximum payoff, yet the more extensive passages of tracks such as “Protoconsciousness” and “Obsidiana” are likely to invoke the ire ov the impatient all the same. To some extent, sustained sludgy grooves are the meat and potatoes of this dish, with weeping Katatonic melodies and haunting moments of sadboi splendor being the pessimistic pudding, and everyone knows the rules there.4 Those who stick around to get their fill will find themselves feasting on such morsels as the Pink Floydular saxophone solo on the otherwise Opethian “Fractal Visions,” the epic Ghost Brigadery of closer “Metempsicosis,” and a hearty helping of gloomy goodness in general.
I have very few complaints regarding Sublime Emptiness, though also admittedly about as much downright ringing praise. It’s an enjoyable effort, executed effectively by everyone involved, but it’s not likely to upset any list rankings. Nonetheless, The Holeum have a great grasp on the gloomy game, and given time to further hone their skills and explore their own songwriting capabilities, I could see them giving us something grimly remarkable down the road. Until
Fear No Longer Defines Us then, a couple of shots of this and some Antarktis are just what the doctor ordered to keep the shakes away while Steel and I wait out this Ghost Brigade hiatus with our fuzzy fingers crossed.5
- I.e., if it’s grinding, bath-salted meatheadery, it’s probably already in Mark Z‘s library. Whereas if it scares the children and sounds like demon nails on a haunted chalkboard, Madam X is likely lurking just around the corner, and so forth. ↩
- (whispers) BAM! ↩
- The greater good. ↩
- They fucking better, anyway. ↩
- Something something Nightwish, yo. ↩