Review Summary: When labels fail...
It's really easy for me to begin reviews with "lemme tell ya about this subgenre of metal--it's reeeaaallllly goin down da drain there", but coming into this review I had no idea what the ol' standby was supposed to be. Deer Hollow is a metal trio from Boston, proclaiming that they play "genre bending metal", and really, I can't argue with that. Their Bandcamp tags run the following: black metal, death metal, metal, djent, hardcore, math metal, and progressive metal; these are all somewhat true. The Encyclopaedia Metallum describes their genre as "Technical Death/Black Metal" but that doesn't quite cut it either. Sure, there are hints of all this (and more!), but the main thing that can be said is this: Deer Hollow's self-titled album is a hell of a debut for such a young band.
The greatest strength this album has its encompassing and oftentimes overwhelming atmosphere. Even through the mathy riffing, the blastbeats, and the grating vocals, the backwoods ambience is generally the only thing that remains consistent, bringing to mind the southern flair of Rwake's classic "Voices of Omens". Trying to adequately describe this band would end up with us in describing every subgenre of metal music. From the dark ambient intro and subsequent mathcore freakout of opener "No Peace", the meandering tech death repetition of interlude "Revelations", the blackened grindcore and drone-doom passages of previously released single "Sunn God", the sludgy riffs and lush strumming of pinnacle "In Order That God Might Not Outwit Us", to the beastly droning and atonal noodling of instrumental closer "No One Deserves This," this is a difficult album to stomach in one listen.
Just due to the Internet's effect on amateur musicians everywhere, anybody and their untalented dog who makes music can publish it easily. However, it is worth mentioning that these guys have only been around since 2015, putting out only the single "Sunn God" before this release and their technical skill is beyond their years. Individually and collectively, these guys are fantastic musicians, showing great chemistry with one another while doing each of their respective duties. Guitarist Aidan Nelson throws in incredible riffs, fantastic solos, punishing grooves, and finger-melting technicality; bassist Andres Vera is more than competent and powerfully audible (hallelujah!), switching off incredibly technical jazzy noodling for crushingly distorted rumbling seamlessly; and drummer Zak Icaza is a monster behind the kit, showcasing complex fills, varied time signatures and rhythms, and contributing the attitude of ear-splitting chaos this collective shows. Although also the guitarist, Aidan Nelson's vocal abilities spearhead the album's grimy atmosphere and deserve their own spotlight, showcasing a blackened rasp not unlike Kim Carlsson's (Lifelover) desperate screeches, a hearty roar that brings to mind Ed Butcher's (early I Killed the Prom Queen) mid-shout or Mikael Stanne's (Dark Tranquility) beefy roar, and a nearly hardcore whimper somewhere in between. While this variation might have been the album's downfall in lethargic delivery, it helps the album along substantially when its sound may be excessively repetitive or stagnant.
This comes to the flaws. Due to this band being incredibly young, their songwriting weaknesses show here and there, particularly in the first half of the album, with the frustratingly empty repetition of interlude "Revelations" or the noncommittally sinister yet clean nature of "I Cut Out My Eyes." The album certainly shows a dynamic in focus, where the first half showcase more mind-blowing technicality or "wankery," while the second half fully capitalizes upon the grimy and sinister atmosphere to incredibly monolithic and otherworldly proportions. Thus, although the atmosphere pervades the entirety of the album's 55-minute runtime, its quality varies from the first half to the second.
As previously stated, this album's progression (although periodically tedious) lands us to the album's pinnacle closer tracks, "In Order That God Might Not Outwit Us" and "Nobody Deserves This", which comprise 20 minutes of the runtime and showcase the best summary of this band's abilities. The former, beginning with a gentle yet haunting acoustic plucking that sounds somewhere between flamenco and southern rock, serves as the sonic climax of the album, fusing mathy riffing with a sludge production, which morphs into a nearly djenty bass groove while lush jazzy chords are plucked over it. It's a stunningly beautiful yet strange combination, concluding with beautifully haunting piano over the sound of wind. "Nobody Deserves This" recalls closer track "Pure" on Eryn Non Dae.'s album "Hydra Lernaia", although entirely instrumental. It begins with drones, feedback, and heavy bass, chaotic drumming pounding in the distance, which morphs into more upfront mathy bass freakouts and atonal noise rock-esque guitar . This exchange continues for the entirety of the track, ending on a dark ambient note. These two closers, the clear highlights of the album, show Deer Hollow at their best--atmospheric and grimy while enhancing disorder and discordance.
Here's a recipe for you: take a blender and dump in the blackened tendencies of Deathspell Omega, the mathcore riffs of The Dillinger Escape Plan, the jazzy technical death metal freak-outs of Cynic, the distortion-drenched production of Eyehategod, the meandering quality and instrumental audibility of Behold... The Arctopus, the backwoods sludge atmosphere of Rwake, and the mysterious lumbering quality of Eryn Non Dae., with a few dashes of The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Anathema, Oxbow, and I Killed the Prom Queen. Turn the blender on high and pour the smoothie into a glass of garage band enthusiasm. Sip angrily and you might come close to describing this beast.
Deer Hollow's self-titled debut is simultaneously crushing yet contemplative, showing an innovative fusion of multiple metal subgenres to a chaotic effect. While this young outfit's youth is clearly visible, a debut doesn't get much better than this.