Instead of writing what would have been my fiftieth backhanded compliment aimed at the decades of abuse death metal fans have endured beyond the advent of the Boss HM-2 distortion pedal, I figure it’d be more worthwhile to focus on the great successes of the last few years within the niche. Entrails hit this massive peak with the accessible but ripping ‘Obliteration’ in 2015. Usurpress‘ ‘The Regal Tribe’ was something truly next-level in 2016. Acephalix stormed back into focus with ‘Decreation’ in 2017, demolishing all with Mass Burial as the clear runner-up. Last year the unholy mastery of the pedal went to Ripped to Shreds‘ fanatical debut ‘埋葬’ (Feral was up there too!) and it only seems the bar is set abominably high in 2019. Punto Fijo, Venezuela HM-2 crushers Nocturnal Hollow see the release of one of the more striking uses of the guitar tone in 2019 thus far with their fifth full-length ‘A Whisper of a Horrendous Soul’.
They’d kicked around a more Autopsy focused sound on their debut ‘Decay of Darkness’ (2011) and my favorite release from the band ‘Into the Shade of Solitude’ (2014) was a bit more brutal with a hint of The Chasm around the edges. The HM-2 wouldn’t take full effect as a prominent feature of their old school death metal sound until ‘The Nuances of Death’ (2017) where its implementation had more or less changed their style along with their sound. Had they erased their earlier influences and style for the sake of an accessibly heavy, ultra-extreme Swedish death metal guitar tone? Actually, this appears to have been the goal all along and the generally independent focus of the project has allowed them to find their intended sound through do-it-yourself practices. Likewise this leap towards vocalist/guitarist JR Escalante’s intended vision comes with continued mix/master refinement by the hand of Felipe Grüber, who has worked with the indomitable Demise in the past as well as Serpent Christ‘s overlooked ‘Mortuus in Anima’ which Escalante also provided guitars for.
The result of the continued refinement of Nocturnal Hollow‘s old school Swedish death metal sound is a huge and professionally balanced state of polish that is almost too ‘clean’ for its own good; ‘A Whisper of a Horrendous Soul’ is closer in sound to a modern Demonical or Revel in Flesh record and their songwriting more or less follow suit, which I guess takes some getting used to if you’re already familiar with earlier work which reminded me more of bands like Murder Squad or Death Breath, something a bit ‘off’ and unpredictable at times. These are all very similar shades of grey and I really doubt anyone will feel the need to analyze such a straightforward experience. Escalante is a fine guitarist who understand the percussive nature of the HM-2 sound and hits upon a lot of the hardcore + Autopsy attack that defines most old school Stockholm death metal so clearly. I would say the compositions here are sort of on the level with Feral‘s second album which also took some of those old Dismember patterns and made them a touch more moshable.
Entombed was one of the first death metal bands I’d become a fan of in the early 90’s so it is always a challenge to not associate every band I’ve heard that sounded like Nocturnal Hollow since I was a pre-teen. It is a nice grouping of buzzing guitar sounds and acrobatic riffs but at some point it becomes a maze full of rooms I’ve already spent decades lounging within. I’m comfortable, pleased, and all around content with the experience but they’ve not done anything truly compelling with that sound beyond make a ‘really fuckin’ good but yeah, up-to-par’ record with above average sound design. There are a few standouts all the same, “The Ungodly One” breaks up the sameness that kicks off Side B and I’d say some of the finest tracks on the album come as it ends with the solid punch of “World Decay” and “Ancestral Beings”. So, as much fun as “Trapped in a Coffin” truly is, some of the heaviest and more inventive moments come right as the album ends. It is a bit of a hill to climb to ask a listener to listen to the whole thing to get to the choice meat of the experience but I’d say it is worth the full spin. Moderately high recommendation. For preview I’d say jump headfirst into “World Decay” just to get your head spinning and then “Trapped in a Coffin” to gauge your interest in Nocturnal Hollow‘s more moshable moments.
Demonic coughs from rotten lungs. 3.75/5.0
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