In the last couple of years, Good Fight Music has been quietly carrying the torch for the late 90’s/early 00’s metalcore sound. With a roster that boasts some reactivated bands of that era (The Banner, Ion Dissonance) along with some more recent and progressive exponents of the genre (Axis, Of Feather and Bone, Old Wounds), they have kept the flame burning brightly where it could have easily sputtered out about half a decade ago. One of the label’s more recent highlights has been Michigan’s Hollow Earth. For those who are unfamiliar with the band, Hollow Earth formed in 2011 after three members of the band met while filling in as touring members of legendary metalcore outfit Shai Hulud.
In fairly short order, they were able to put together a devastating debut EP entitled We Are Not Humanity. That release clearly reflected Hollow Earth’s previous association with Shai Hulud, but brought in some fresher, more vicious sounding elements that also clearly set them apart. During that same period, I also got into a stupid internet fight with two members of the band over a science fiction poem, so full disclosure of all my pedantic biases here. As of 2016, Hollow Earth are now another full length (2014’s Silent Graves) and an EP (2015’s Parting Remains) deep, and have just released a monstrous LP this month in the form of Dead Planet.
Now that all that is out of the way, let’s talk about what makes this band interesting. They could easily have turned out to be simply an updated, less wrinkly Shai Hulud and called it a day – touring the earth and keeping the endlessly rotating 18-24 white male demographic solidly stoked on misanthropy or whatever. They didn’t do that though. Instead, they pushed their boundaries a little more on each release, embracing influences that a lot of bands in their niche never get around to, encompassing the aesthetics of Neurosis and Mastodon and incorporating ever increasing bits of their music into the sound they had already established for themselves. Hollow Earth accomplished this while still retaining their core influences with nods to the aforementioned Hulud, along with doses of bands like Misery Signals and Poison the Well evident in the milieu.
The culmination of this process is Dead Planet, which I would describe first and foremost as a record that sounds like everything I wish metalcore had eventually evolved into, as opposed to what it actually became. There is a lot to love here, glitters of Mastodon-esque progginess and noodling, thrashy hardcore passages, post-whatever atmospherics, and chunky heaviness that never strays into cliche mosh beatdown territory. Vocalist Steve Muczynski shreds his throat delivering an intense and well thought out set of conceptual lyrics about a an adventurer journeying through the void of time and space. While it strays into sci-fi territory a bit, Muczynski’s terrorized scream lets you know it feels real enough to him.
There are a bunch of guest musicians on here as well, and some stellar ones at that; Trevor Strnad, Tad Doyle, and John Pettibone among them. That said, I suspect Dead Planet would still slam without them. The first proper track on the record, Astral Dominion comes into being with a full on Through Silver in Blood-era Neurosis intro segment that deftly works that signature combination of atmospheric guitar lines and tribal rhythmic elements and eventually morphs into a mid-tempo beast of a jam that has an interesting interplay of loud/soft dynamics throughout, creating a tense and brooding environment.
Another standout here is the third track Setting Teeth which brings a Leviathan-era Mastodon riff/melody that was stuck in my head for a couple days after I first listened to it. That track leads right into the restrained and excellent Reflections in Refracted Light that pulls off a latter-career Poison the Well/Deftones vibe and melody with the addition of clean vocals that really set it apart from the rest of the record. That said, despite the breadth of the influences swirling through each track on Dead Planet, nothing here feels fractured or contrived. The songs work together well when digested as a whole and also as standalone pieces, which is a hard balancing act to pull off on a full length.
Hollow Earth manage to navigate some territory that bands rarely traverse on this album, finding an engaging middle ground between stoner/sludge riffs, post-metal wash, and the urgent angst and thrash of melodic metalcore. They have created a record that feels vast and beautiful, yet tense, tight, and unrelenting at its core – like a snowy mountain with a boiling plume of lava at its center. If Dead Planet is the new standard bearer for a future crop of intellectual, influence-rich metalcore bands, then I say bring them on. If it’s not, then it should be. Get into it.
Release Date: 12/2/16
Label: Good Fight Music
Favorite Tracks: Astral Dominion, Reflections In Refracted Light