It’s important for bands to keep up momentum, both on a smaller and larger scale. When Naberus dropped their impressive debut record, Reveries, in 2013 they managed to create a respectable amount of buzz within their local Melbourne and Australian scenes. Following that, however, the band’s trajectory seemingly stalled, and when they finally re-emerged three years later it was only with an expanded version of their debut. Now, a full five years since Reveries’ release, Naberus are back with a proper follow-up in Hollow. Yet it may turn out to be a case of too little too late for the Melbourne outfit, with the album boasting both an unexpected change in direction and a bloated track length made all the more exhausting via its monochromatic content.
That the album’s cover comes off like a piece of rejected Falling In Reverse concept art is the first hint that something’s a bit remiss with Hollow. The opening seconds of “Slaves” immediately lay to rest any concerns that the the band may have turned to “trapcore” with their sophomore release. However, while what they’re serving up on this second outing might not be too far a departure from the riff-heavy melodic death metal they brought with Reveries, it also constitutes a shift in style that leaves many of their previous palette’s stronger elements in its wake. Gone is the emphasis on thrash and groove, which has been replaced with a more bouncy, almost-djent style of riffing reminiscent of earlier Monuments, which—while not altogether unwelcome—sits awkwardly within the framework Naberus have built for themselves up until this point. James Ash’s vocals were far more suited to their prior setting, and they sound both overproduced and overreaching in their new context. Likewise, while the now more tech-oriented riffing is perfectly serviceable, none of it ever particular “pops” the way the best practitioners of the style do, so that the end result is less a band sitting comfortably in their respective pocket as one desperately stretching for something just outside their reach.
Such an assessment is perhaps overly harsh. Yet, a lot of what is contained on Hollow comes across as posturing, and the band do themselves no favors by sticking so close to their newly chosen formula. The record carries itself on a certain amount of undeniable, ballistic momentum for the first four, five, even six tracks, and any of its fourteen tracks taken in isolation likely contains more redeeming features than it does negative ones. Taken as a whole, however, the tracks lack enough of their own individuality to truly stand out, and their lack of distinction really starts to set in, before the record is even halfway over. There also isn’t much in the way of the record’s later offerings that is particularly worth staying around for. All the album’s strongest material is packed into its earlier moments, with the more melodeath-leaning “Space to Breathe” and “Split in Two” constituting its strongest offerings. While each track starts with a bang, few of them maintain that energy throughout their often overlong running times.
So it is that Hollow leaves Naberus suffering the same fault on three fronts. The record is full of pleasant enough numbers that are, in turn, full of fun and enjoyable moments. Yet, these moments are often too few and too feeble to carry the songs through to their conclusion and similarly prevent the album from ever building up enough inertia to sustain the listener through its excessive track listing. Likewise, it’s been too long between releases for the band to harness the hype built up by their debut, and it’s questionable whether or not those that flocked to Reveries might find themselves alienated band’s new direction and aesthetic, or whether they bring enough to the table to capture a section of the already-over-saturated market they’re to which such sounds might more naturally appeal. Naberus might not have had the smoothest ride between releases, and the fact that Hollow has finally seen the light of day is an achievement in itself that should by no means be taken away from the band. It’s just one that might also leave facing an uphill battle.
Hollow is out now, via Eclipse records.