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The Hollow Promise of a Hollow Psalm - 86%

PigfaceChristus, July 1st, 2010

“Hollow Psalms” is Ludicra’s most black metal release, but that isn’t really saying much. Undeniably, it’s an ambitious work, especially for a debut, as it basically establishes Ludicra’s melodic take on black metal, hardcore influences, and progressive rock. The band isn’t trying to be something they aren’t and, as a result, give an energetic and authentic performance. Catchy and accessible, “Hollow Psalms” is not exactly going to bring out the devil in you, but Ludicra most certainly do not deal in impotent music that exists only for character-less imitation.

“Tomorrow Held in Scorn” sets the pace up for what will be a furious release. Riding the tremolo of the guitars, the drums immediately blast into full speed, while Shanaman spits out her vocals venomously. The song gives off the sense that “Hollow Psalms” will be much more straightforward than Ludicra’s follow-ups. This track, in particular, is very short and, beyond its shift to a jostling tempo and its brief progressive section, fairly mono-dimensional. However, this is a bit deceptive. As much as the band confines all of their quirky tendencies to very memorable song structures, “Hollow Psalms” does go to strange places as much as it needs to in order to establish its personality.

The album is progressive in the sense that strange things always happen in each track, composition-wise or style-wise. For instance, “Hollow Promise” builds up tension by starting with acoustic chords and a flute, only to rush into tremolo and clean female vocals. Many other tracks feature clean guitars with echo effects and strange tempo changes, which often take the music to a sort of dreamy minimalism, as in “Damn the Night” and “The Final Lamentation.” All of these elements—combined with harmonious clean tremolo, the band’s general eccentricity, and catchy compositions—make for an accessible blend of many different genres that doesn’t fall prey to being watered-down.

Of course, there’s no denying that “Hollow Psalms” is metal. Shanaman’s screams are some of the best that any female metal vocalist has to offer. In “Userpent,” she lets off absolutely deranged, ear-piercing shrieks, but Ludicra maintain their edge even when they do something different. “The Final Lamentation” is a broody song with a character of its own, and the way Shaman’s shrieks follow chanting clean vocals allow for an immersive atmosphere that is both melancholy and hateful. There’s a certain power to the drummer’s performance, too, as he fluidly shifts between styles. The production is altogether clean, but not overly so, and allows the band to sound forceful whether they’re playing at a sprint or at a crawl.

With such a consistent discography, it’s arguable whether or not “Hollow Psalms” is Ludicra’s best release, but it certainly contains some of their most memorable songs. It’s not the sort of music that requires a burdened listen, but it is consistently enjoyable and covers enough soundscapes to warrant many revisits. To any fan of metal, the album will come off as inoffensive, yet there’s a refreshing quality to the music that comes with any skillful departure from generic conventions. “Hollow Psalms” is more than just a new band establishing itself; it’s a controlled exercise in innovation done very well.