Rating – 4/5
Inverness outfit Isolates have already proven they are capable of writing a brilliant song or two with debut single Frost, and followup, Forces. But Hollow, their debut album, shows this was no fluke, and they have plenty more to offer. Hollow consists of seven tracks, including Frost and Forces, and clearly takes influence from right across the alternative music spectrum, most notably prog rock and alternative metal. Isolates have a talent for creating extremely dark atmospheric music, and they have managed to achieve their vision with this album.
Reboot opens the album. A short, ambient, electronic intro track that steadily builds the atmosphere of what’s to come before effortlessly transitioning into the second track, The Fear, which kickstarts instantly with Isolates’ trademark punchy, distorted bass and eery guitar fills before the vocals enter. It features an interesting synth interlude before building to an explosive finale. The guitars and drums are relentless, and there are screamed vocals sitting low in the mix under the soft and melodic sung female vocals. The effect this creates is haunting and instantly showcases what Isolates are all about.
Following on from this is 1111, a track about obsessing overseeing the number 1 everywhere. Purely coincidentally and spookily, 1111 is made up of 111 bars and 11 chords. There really is no escape. Numbers aside, on this track Isolates really show off their prog influence. A four-minute journey of purely instrumental music that plays with textures and time signatures, 1111 begins with a reverberated, dissonant guitar, before a call and response commence between the bass and a distorted guitar. An intelligent composition.
Next up is Forces, the second single released from the album and the standout track. It’s hard to find a fault with this song. The main riff is dark but catchy. The vocals are calm yet commanding. Everything joins together to create a desolate, chilling atmosphere, yet somehow you don’t feel alone. This is a special track. Forces is followed by a timely interlude, Elm. This two-minute instrumental is notably melodic and contemplative, and as with album opener Reboot, does an excellent job of setting the mood for what’s to follow, with the clean, reverberated guitars leading the way to the vast openness of the Highlands.
That chilling, vastness is the basis of the next song, Frost: the album’s debut single and a fine example of Isolates’ artistic creativity. The lyrics are taken from Claude McKay’s 1922 poem, The Winter, and the use of a poem when combined with soft, expansive textures creates a clear picture of the empty, snow-covered Scottish Highlands. The skill required to create imagery such as this should not be understated. Following this is the title track and album closer, Hollow. The slick drumming and bass playing lead the way, carrying the album to a sombre yet epic finish. The steady build-up is met with a ferocious climax, juxtaposed expertly with eloquent and calming vocals.
For a debut album from a relatively inexperienced band, Hollow really delivers. It’s mature, complex, and incredibly focused. There are so many intricate details on every song that help make this album what it is, with every guitar note and every synth fill having their place. Despite including a mix of softer and heavier tracks, neither style will alienate fans of the other, with the heavier moments managing to not overwhelm the softer sections, they compliment each other superbly. Hollow is a fantastic debut effort and will leave many itching for more.
Review by Will Cooper