Monday, June 3, 2013

Sleepwalkers - Hollowpath (2013)

Some six weeks ago, we began to ponder a question that was quickly answered: where have all the giants of death/doom gone? It seems as though many of them have simply gone dormant, slumbering in some far off corner of the world, resting their bodies before the next wave of brutal, emotionally heavy music is aged and ready. But while the beast sleeps, someone else surely must take up their posts. It was then, in early April that Swedish two piece Soliloquium stepped into a position of power. Now, nearly two months later, a second power has emerged. Austin, Texas' own Sleepwalkers were not content to sit back, and await the return of the powerhouse acts that had defined the genre for so long. Instead, they step out on their own, with Mike Watts getting layer after layer of instrumental fury into digital format, and furiously scribbling down lyrics. Those words, those which form the basis for their debut album, are now the battlecry for a new generation of bands. With Caleb Bergen at the mic, the four track monster known as "Hollowpath," has arrived.

The title track, "Hollowpath," is like the first punch landed in a heavyweight fight; it might not be the heaviest blow of the match, but it is enough to snap you awake. Like the behemoths of the genre, you have a balanced combination of distorted guitars on top of the booming sound of a well tuned kick drum. With multi-instrumentalist Watts handling all of the musical duties, his solitary vision comes to life in every movement.  But it is the way his array of sonic attacks merge with the vocals of Bergen that forms the most significant quality the duo possesses. For a band in the earliest of stages, their maturity shines through here, keeping the waves balanced, but crushing all the way through the outro. It is the slow, down tempo chugging of "Sliver of Salvation" that begins to give the album a shape all its own. The doom elements shine brightest in this track, keeping the mood bleak and the down beats heavy. Bergen sees his growls gaining weight, as each guttural vocalization gets progressively more frightening. But even amidst all the deathly screams, Watts finds a way to infuse small touches of melody to the backing instrumental. His performance is layered perfectly, creating contrast in every riff. 

Perhaps the biggest splash on the album is made by "The Burning Oracle," which boasts not only some of the most devastating guitar work on the album, but also some of the most crisp production work. The pair have outdone themselves here, offering a professional quality track that stands up to the biggest names in the business. The sheer depth of sound they've achieved, with both the multiple layers of guitar, bass, and drums, as well as the brutally hypnotic vocal track, is far better than even they could've hoped. Just shy of the five minute mark, the deathly grows go to new, deeper lows. And while the finale stands as the longest track on the album, clocking in at a hair over seven minutes, it may feel shorter than the rest. Thanks to some creative time management, "Netherworld" is both the closer you deserve, and the one you needed right now. Watts balances his heavy handed instrumental with an oddly atmospheric melody, one that lurks just behind the first layer. With each kick drum, snare, and cymbal, he drives the nail deeper and deeper into the coffin lid, pounding you down with it. Ad when you think you can't possibly survive another wave, soft synthesizers play you out. A surprise, and a pleasant one.

It bodes well for the new wave of death metal inspired doom when some of the brightest stars of the up-and-coming, Soliloquium and Sleepwalkers, have managed to forge an identity all their own so early in their respective careers. Both bands offer some of the same things that made this genre a growth category in the last few years; but their personal touches, in both instrumental and vocal forms, show them to be far superior than the hordes coming out of the wood work. What makes the success of this debut even more satisfying is that it come from within the flat 50 of the United States, an honor for any American metal fan. But this new wave of stars begs a question: What kind of world are we living in when we are more excited about a potential full length from Sweden's Soliloquium and Austin's Sleepwalkers than we are for a new Draconian or Paradise Lost? I'd say we are in the world of 2013; and it is a damn fine place to be.


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