When approaching progressive stoner, you have two choices: you can choose to prefer the progressive part of things or the stoner part of things. Which you choose will invariably impact the style of your music; both elements will be present but both elements are also notoriously dominant and so, the one you favor will usually push out the one you don’t. Often, bands choose the latter because it seems to be the meat and bones of things; progressive is a garnish, something to be added afterwards. In that case, the emphasis is on punch and fuzz, with the more melodic or varied passages serving to mostly break up the onslaught of the main thrust of the album. The danger you run in that case is one of repetition; there’s only so much punch a listener can stay open to.
That’s very much the case with Hollow Leg‘s Civilizations. At its base lie extremely powerful vocals, their rounded and hoarse timbre reminding us of the early Clutch days, when Neil Fallon was grumbling and screaming in our ears about the virtues of alcohol, myth, and samurais. This kind of swagger is what lies at the bottom of Civilizations and everything else takes its cue from that; the guitars rely heavily on the low end and churn out the kind of stoner metal riffs we’d expect from a release of this kind. And it’s not half bad either; tracks like “Intro” and “Litmus” channel these vibes very well, the latter one reminding us of Boss Keloid‘s heavier tracks off of their last album. The tones work, the riffs hit deep, and the mood is communicated, spearheaded by the relentless vocals.
But that’s also mostly the only speed which the albums goes at. Aside from some relief, like the excellent and Sahg like duo of “Black Moon” and “Hunter and the Hunted”‘s opening, the album just keeps pummeling you. The progressive side of the equation is present for sure, mostly in some tone choices and the way some of the songs are constructed, but the stoner metal half of it drowns out most of it. Which is a shame because the aforementioned “Black Moon” shows great potential and would have benefited from being a longer track. Some more of those clean and trippy vocals in there could have much needed variety and made the heaviness of Hollow Leg that much heavier by force of contrast.
As it stands though, Civilizations suffers from a single minded dedication to stoner metal that, after a strong opening, quickly flips in its seat and bites the hand which feeds it. Taken in pieces, everything works well; the reliance on the vocals is understandable, since they really are quite good. But when the big picture coalesces, you’re left with an album with a lot of squandered potential. The pieces fit but they grate as they do, giving the album a waddle as it struggles to arrive at its point. Like many great works of art, books, movies and many, many album, Civilizations would have benefited from a firm editorial hand, more decisive questions about its own direction, and a willingness to wonder further afield. All of these would have helped bring out its undeniable potential which, as it stands, doesn’t quite shine through.
Hollow Leg’s Civilizations will see release on January 26th via Argonauta Recrods. You can pre-order it right here.