Given the competency shown on Civilizations, it’s a wonder Hollow Leg aren’t better known. Their music lives in the sludge metal/hard rock hybrid space of groups such as Big Business, Red Fang and High on Fire on their less vitriolic moods, and they do a damn good job of it. They have enough wisdom to let their songs breathe, allowing two or three members to establish a groove while the others embellish on it tastefully, keeping a loose rock feel throughout rather than a sometimes over-coordinated metal approach. By and large, this is successful for the group. While there are some weaker tracks, there aren’t any that totally derail the flow of the album, and in terms of serving as a sampler to draw someone out to a live rock show, it’s difficult arguing with this set.
The issue primarily comes from the transparency of their sonic touchstones. When I say that they draw from Big Business, I mean that midway in the track “Mountains of Stone,” there is a guitar break that sounds exactly the kind that Big Business started to do after they added a guitarist to their lineup. Similar to that group, Hollow Leg started as a duo and learned to craft song-driving grooves with minimal parts, which freed up the other instrumentalists to pursue other touches or join in for full rock fury if desired. Similarly, the vocals are less a Matt Pike homage and more just straight-up Matt Pike. It’s hard to find a sonic move or touch of theirs you couldn’t source directly to another band in their general milieu.
If they were less competent, this would be damning. To their benefit, however, their songwriting is firm and practiced enough that it doesn’t strike the ear as offensive. Plus, it would be unimaginable that they would play such a niche style of heavy rock music and would deny influence from its major players. What we’re left with instead is a band that, if not perhaps the most original in the world, is at least good at delivering the goods. Rock ‘n’ roll, thankfully, is not driven by innovators but by rocking the fuck out itself, and this record delivers enough to work on that front.
A more frustrating issue is the way the tail end of the record seems to lose focus. The first six tracks are immaculately paced, seemingly drawing from classic grunge records for how to move from heavier and more metallic pieces to looser more rock and roll tracks, with a short acoustic number tossed in. It is this sequence of six tracks that makes their obvious sonic touchstones so easy to overlook. But, ironically, the last track that maintains such momentum is “Intro”, the sixth song, where the final three, though good on their own, do little to build off of each other or what came before. It’s frustrating.
There are plenty of bands that sound like other bands; that’s hardly a serious problem, and anyone who pretends otherwise ignores that the vast body of recorded and performed music is not made of people inventing totally new ideas. But the squandered momentum of a solid record knocks it down a few pegs. It’s easy to see this being a seasonal banger if the close were just a touch better, something that would age well as spring and summer rolled on. While it’s easy to imagine tracks from this sneaking onto playlists around that time, it’s difficult to imagine the album having the full staying power front to back to draw people in far beyond that.
Still, Hollow Leg are clearly more in the business of producing fun and powerful rock and, presumably, delivering the goods primarily in a live venue. It doesn’t take a genius to see which of the tracks on Civilization will likely make it into a live set and I can’t imagine their show being dull. On the mark of freshening up a live show and giving strong material that will come alive with rock and roll lightning on the sweaty stage, Civilization is a success. One just hopes their next record is structured a bit more consistently; with a stronger landing, this could have been a major record. It’s still within reach.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.