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Hollow - "Mordrake" (CD)

Hollow - "Mordrake" CD cover image

"Mordrake" track listing:

1. Lament Configuration
2. Cryptic Howling
3. A New Life
4. Landscape
5. Iscariot
6. Sunriser
7. Vlad
8. Anomie
9. Snow
10. Birth
11. Hate
12. Death

Reviewed by on April 9, 2014

"A primer on how extreme metal ought to sound: adventurous, expansive, daring, and heroic."

In the liner notes of the 2008 compilation album “Gold Medal In Metal,” Sweden’s Dream Evil offered this piece of rocket science on the title’s concept: “When you play so much metal that you win a gold medal.” To achieve that, however, sometimes you have to defy formulas, conventions, expectations. Hollow tosses them all right out the window while making it seem the most natural thing in the world. Bands don’t usually get away with this kind of murder.

It’s a lofty echelon indeed, the school of metal to which this Montreal act belongs. We’ve heard the basic approach before in various ways, from the symphonic black metal of Dimmu Borgir to the outlandish gothic splendor of Cradle Of Filth to the technical wizardry of Wintersun. Whatever one may think of those bands, they all helped change the way we categorize our metal by pushing stylistic boundaries, and so does Hollow – by combining all of the above without a single care as to how it’s labeled.

Debut album “Mordrake” is a canvas onto which one projects whatever description suits his fancy, and it usually fits. Is it black metal? Death? Thrash? Symphonic? Progressive shred? The answer is both yes and no to all. Songs like “Cryptic Howling,” “Landscape,” and “Sunriser” (to name but a few) don’t outright trade musical vehicles so much as shift gears without losing pace; rarely will you hear such an exuberant, full-throttle cyclone of Emperor, Skeletonwitch, and even Symphony X that works so stunningly.

Further underlining Hollow’s dedication to both everything and nothing within metal culture are the little touches. There’s the piledriving speed-gallop “Iscariot,” a bridge to the British New Wave and early thrash classics of yore. There’s “A New Life,” whose chorus section resembles a mosh-friendly breakdown without sacrificing melody. There’s the epic “Snow,” the album’s longest and most memorable song, with one of the most moving and effective clean vocal passages you’ll hear this year.

With such a maelstrom of activity and staggering range of musical settings, you’d expect a clinical Pro Tools production would be inevitable, right? Think again. “Mordrake” was recorded in analog without a click track, resulting in a warm, genuine, “live” sonic envelope – a rarity in this type of metal. And on a presentation note, the group’s creative use of upper-body corpse paint owes itself as much to “L.D. 50” era Mudvayne as to Immortal.

I could dither around until I found something to crucify, but really, what’s the point? Sure, at twelve hefty tracks, “Mordrake” stretches things a bit, and possibly dilutes some of the “oomph” in the second half, but individually, each of these songs are primers on how extreme metal ought to sound: adventurous, expansive, daring, and heroic. Hollow, in sound, image, and attitude, wins that elusive gold.

Highs: "Iscariot," "A New Life," and "Snow"

Lows: The album is a tad long-winded.

Bottom line: Several years in the making, this full-length debut will delight Hollow's patient supporters, and is essential listening for all extreme metal fans.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)