Album Title: Hollow
Label: No Solace
Date of Release: 8 January 2024
What in the name of the Gods have I inadvertently stumbled into? It was a drab, dreary day and whilst looking after a poorly child, I took the opportunity as she slept next to me to scroll through a couple of my social media accounts. In quick succession, I saw two mentions of an album that I’d never heard of, the front cover of which was as depressing, bleak, and drab as the reality with which I was faced out of my windows. I have no idea why but, with literally no knowledge of the band or the music, I felt somehow compelled to check it out. The album in question was ‘Hollow’ by Hauntologist.
I listened a little cursorily to begin with, sure that this wasn’t going to be my ‘thing’. But I was still listening when my daughter awoke a while later, and my attention was drawn elsewhere. Later that evening, though, I had the opportunity to put the headphones on again and once more, I was drawn to ‘Hollow’. As I listened, I did my research, and have found out that Hauntologist is essentially a duo, with Hollow being their debut full-length. With further reading, it transpires that Hauntologist is comprised of two Polish musicians reasonably well-known in underground black metal circles, namely drummer Darkside (Kriegsmaschine, Mgła) and The Fall (Owls Woods Graves, Raventhrone, Over The Voids…) who is responsible for guitars, bass, keys, and vocals.
Unburdened by knowledge or preconceptions and with a genuinely open mind, I listened intently to the music on offer on ‘Hollow’. I then listened again. And again. Post-black metal wouldn’t normally be anywhere near the top of my aural wish list, but there was something about this album that kept pulling me back again and again. At first, I was unable to pinpoint the reason but after a while, it hit me: it wasn’t one single ingredient, but a mix of many. From a surprising quota of melody to the sense of bleakness conveyed through the music, to the many and varied twists and turns across the record, it offers a lot of positives if you’re willing to take the time to uncover them. Some of the tracks are more immediate in their likeability, but each one of the eight tracks has something interesting to offer.
That said, it’s that word ‘bleak’ which comes back to my mind every time I listen. The production is deliberately on the lo-fi end of the spectrum which initially helps with the dark misery that’s conveyed almost entirely throughout. Indeed, the Hauntologist Bandcamp page refers to the music as “deeply rooted in negative metal music, it leans towards other genres and forms of expression to seek analogue musical sounds of sleepless nights and surreal, anxiety-provoking hallucinations.”
Amen to that, although as true as this description undoubtedly is, I’d argue that the reality is perhaps just a touch less impenetrable as this makes it sound. Yes, there are tracks that make the whole experience rather uncomfortable and inhospitable; the cold fast-picked guitars within the slightly dense and muddy mix as well as some stunning but unrelenting drumming obviously aiding this discomfort. But never does the music ever veer into unlistenable territory where you might grudgingly agree with your non-metal loving mates who forever say ‘urgh, that’s just noise’. I’m not a fan of that sort of thing either and Hauntologist steer just clear enough to keep a listener like me onside.
“There’s something here” rasps The Fall, followed by a sinister knocking noise that recurs whilst the blazing, frenetic black metal onslaught wraps the listener in an unnerving sonic cloak. It was this ingredient, alongside the dark bursts of black metal aggression that caught my ear at first within opening track, ‘Ozymandian’, an almost horror-like feel to the song. However, the more I have listened, the more I have noticed the frequent but subtle changes in tempo, the layers of sound that are expertly constructed and executed, as well as the excellent performances of the two musicians. But it’s the melody that emerges from the unsettling darkness that has ensured that this track has burrowed into my affections whether I wanted it to, or not. The cold, fast-picked riffing becomes almost catchy in places, whilst there’s a touch of groove when the superb, incessant drumming of Darkside lets up a little. I’m a little shocked, if truth be told, how much I now love this track.
The pace is a little slower and more ponderous within large parts of the follow-up, ‘Golem’, as it lumbers out of the speakers, the bass lines making an impact courtesy of the greater space within the instrumentation. Again, as with most of the tracks on ‘Hollow’, it has been a real slow burn but with time, it too has become another genuine triumph. It’s just as nasty, cold, and raw as its predecessor, with less melody present initially, but somehow, it has an intriguing fascination for me, like I’m compelled to listen. The mid-song ambient, clean guitar-led minimalism is beautiful in its simplicity, before it ushers in a torrent of frantic brutality. The duo raise the tempo and unleash their version of hell upon us all once again, albeit without sacrificing a certain listenability in the process.
At this stage, consider me well and truly impressed, as well as surprised. And it’s a feeling that remains across the entire album. Even ‘Waves Of Concrete’, a ninety-second ‘instrumental’ interlude cannot be ignored. It conveys a sense of that bleak, melancholy vibe as much as any of the other tracks, more so in a sense, as the sounds that emerge alongside a spoken-word sample are really eerie. There’s also a hint of hopeless melody at the death to drive the feelings of despair home.
The title track is incredibly immersive, too, and a change of pace from the tempered black metal cacophony that so typifies much of ‘Hollow’. Instead, it introduces deep and clean vocals atop a quieter, but moody composition, led by clean-strummed guitars alongside simpler, softer drumming and throbbing bass. This track has a really nice organic, stripped back feel charm to it, despite offering no let-up in the overall darkness and sense of hopelessness of the album as a whole. It features some sampled sounds, and gradually builds in intensity until it returns to the more familiar extreme metal sounds late on.
A quick-fire blast of extreme black metal follows in the shape of ‘Autonomy’ but then Hauntologist take another left turn or two in the final stages with ‘Gardermoen’ and ‘Car Kruków’. The former is a much more straightforward affair with a Gothic feel thanks to the deep, almost moaning delivery of the vocals and pulsing beat, not to mention the cloying, suffocating atmosphere that pervades.
The closer, however, brings me to my knees. For the majority of the piece, it is comprised of a very simple, recurring guitar melody, delivered over and over again. A female voice enters at points, and, in Polish, she recalls a dream that she experienced featuring the ‘Tzar of Crows’, the sounds of sorrow, pain and, ultimately, has the ‘Tzar Of Crows’ beckoning her to a palace that means her death. Even writing this description sends shivers up and down my spine. Not even the brief introduction of cacophonous brass instruments can dampen my love of this song, such is its pure, unadulterated sorrow and beauty. In such a simple way, it captures the entire feeling of this album and it’s wonderous. ‘Hollow’ is not an easy listen. It is often quite nasty and abrasive, and if you’re feeling a little emotionally fragile, it might just break you. But, if you like post-black metal, or extreme metal in general, you really should take a listen to ‘Hollow’ by Hauntologist. I’m so glad that I didn’t let it slip away from me, that’s for sure.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%