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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Album Review - Hull: Sole Lord

Hull are an entity that are probably best described as an ensemble or even an orchestra rather than as a band. Now don't get me wrong, that's not to say that this album contains sweeping choral arrangements, horns or a string section…unless of course you count having three guitars as a string section. No, the reason for this classification is because of the complex nature of the records that this band creates. Beginning with the 2006 E.P. Viking Funeral and now with Sole Lord, their first full length album, Hull have created two pieces of art that are probably best described as sagas…their word, not mine.

I'm not going to try and explain the details of the story behind Sole Lord, just know that it has something to do with deserts, sand storms, plagues, a healer, a wanderer and ultimately the Egyptian sun god Ra. You can read the whole thing for yourself right here. What you SHOULD understand is that with Sole Lord, Hull have created one epic slab of metal that combines elements of prog, doom and sludge and they've married it to a concept that breathes life throughout the entire project.

Now this isn't an entirely new idea…Mastodon has made a career out of doing this same sort of thing. But not even those titans of progressive noise can claim to have taken the formula quite to the level that Hull has with Sole Lord. This Brooklyn based band has written what amounts to a short novel to tie each song (or movement as the band refers to them) together and the result is quite impressive.

The album is essentially comprised of three acts, the first of which is entitled "Endless Obsidian Abyss" and begins with the first song (or movement), "Innocence". It invites the listener in by way of a gently strummed guitar that is suddenly and abruptly interrupted by Hull's jarring, sledgehammer of a rhythm section and that colossal three guitar attack. But that's not all…the vocals on Sole Lord are a group effort and they're comprised of discordant harmonizations (and I use that term very loosely) between guttural growls, high pitched yells and moaning chants. So with all the chaotic pieces finally in place, you begin to get the picture…Hull creates a sound that is best described as a collage of overwhelming heaviness.

Act I encompasses the first four movements on the album and it sweeps the listener away on a ride through musical peaks and valleys that culminate with the song "Deliverance". This movement also starts very subtly before it erupts with intricate guitar playing, dense riffs and drum work with enough technicality to make Brann Dailor grin. All of this gives way to Act II, "Wrath of the Sands", which is three solid minutes of chaotic guitar feedback, cymbals and ambient noises. The track serves as a sort of interlude that ultimately transitions the listener to the third and final act, "Born From Flesh and Stone".

Act III is made up of the last five movements, beginning with the excellent instrumental track "Wanderer", which is appropriately titled due to its wandering bass line and psychedelic jam-band vibe. The album continues to flow as the ominous tones of "Healer" follow right on the heels of the instrumental, as if they were really just one long song. At this point the vocals re-enter the picture after having disappeared on the last two tracks and the band is back in full on doom mode. "Aesthetic" is another instrumental jam that is as atmospheric as it is peaceful and serves as the calm before the storm that is the last two movements, "Architect" and "Vessel", which are both very intense, but in two completely different ways.

"Architect" is abrasive and brutal…like playing sludge at punk rock speeds, if that's even possible. "Vessel" on the other hand, is a genre-blending instrumental song that starts off sounding like some classic southern rock ditty but then melds into an extended prog-jam. The song, and the entire Sole Lord saga, concludes with a singular, ominous bass rumble…the musical equivalent to a good old fashioned cliff hanger ending.

With Sole Lord, Hull have crafted an impressive album…err, saga, that is sure to please fans of Mastodon, Baroness and other such purveyors of proggy doom metal. This is a complex and detailed piece of music that will require multiple listens to sink in, but if you're willing to give it a shot, it is well worth the time invested. The word on the street is that Hull are already hard at work on the followup…I can't wait to see what they do for a sequel.

Track Listing:

Act I Endless Obsidian Abyss
I. Innocence
II. Transition
III. Immortal
IV. Deliverance
Act II Wrath of the Sands
Act III Born From Flesh and Stone
V. Wanderer
VI. Healer
VII. Aesthetic
VIII. Architect
IX. Vessel

Band Members:

A. Mack - Guitar
J. Stieber - Drums
C. Laietta - Guitar
N. Palmirotto - Guitar
S.B. Dunn - Bass

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