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Hollow Men

This Knoxville foursome makes music that tastes like chicken and sounds like death

by Mike Gibson

Lanky singer Eric Atkins' half-shorn pate is scraping the delicate crystal lobes of a low-hanging chandelier, but he doesn't seem to care. Flanked by the twin guitar assault of the Bailey Brothers (Jamie, 23, and Michael, 17), he grips his microphone in a white-knuckle chokehold and turns to face drummer James England, who's kicking bass and bashing snare with wanton glee.

As the Baileys explode a classic death-metal depth charge, detonating bottom strings with a series of brutal downstrokes, Atkins sets mike to mouth, opens his throat, and lets fly a glottis-razing wail: "Freeedoooommmm!"

The song in question is "Purification by Pain," an ode to the trials and tribs of the Irish under British rule; the setting is the guest room of Jamie Bailey's North Knoxville home--a room so small it won't accommodate so much as a journalist when four band guys and the resident drum kit are in session.

And it's all part of a day's work for Hollow, a Knoxville death-metal foursome who have more than a passing familiarity with the pratfalls of rehearsals in lowly settings, with the anomie of championing causes no one seems to care about, with the frustration of being marginalized by trends.

Of course, it's not very likely that pop music's fickle tradewinds will ever blow the right direction where Hollow is concerned. Their locally-released Purification by Pain cassette showcases a brand of grinding metal malevolence uniquely unpalatable to mainstream taste--all barbarously distorted vocals, rumbling kick-drums, and rogue chain saw guitars.

But if techno teens and modern rock trendies aren't likely to storm the mall gates in search of Hollow cassettes, or else beat a path to the band's occasional Gryphon's and Mercury Theater shows, the members of this bass-less local four-piece simply respond with a proudly defiant laugh and a proffered middle finger.

"If people don't come out, I don't give a fuck," says Jamie Bailey. "It would be nice if the people who listen to heavy music would come out to our shows. But given most of the music that's around right now, I understand why they don't."

In keeping with classic hard-core ethos, the young men of Hollow seek to widen, rather than bridge, the yawning chasm that separates extremist metal and public taste. In short, they'd rather offend than blend.

At once the youngest and most loquacious member of the group, Michael Bailey doesn't mince words when he addresses some of the styles and artists that have gained a commercial foothold in rock in the years since Metal fell from grace. He rages against modern rock poster boys from Cobain to Rossdale, dismissing MTV as "a load of morons in their flannel playing gay music."

And he notes with no small pride that Hollow performances often flush out mortified indie brats and bong-addled neo-hippies who stumble into clubs unaware of the band's boisterous pedigree.

"At one club, I plugged in and started playing my soundcheck and a bunch of people got up and left," Bailey grins. "That was cool."

But if the roiling black din of Hollow's live show isn't enough to make most gentle would-be listeners flee in horror, co-lyricist Jamie Bailey points out that the band's message is no more accessible than its music. Atkins' vocal rants cover a range of gritty topics from serial killers to the Irish Republican Army (a nod to the Baileys' shamrock heritage); one song--delectably dubbed "Tastes Like Chicken"--even revels in gruesome cannibalistic fantasy.

"I think we all share a certain fascination with people who advocate violence in some fashion, or people who have an obsessive devotion to a cause," says Michael Bailey. "I can't endorse those kinds of beliefs, but they do fascinate me."

Adds Atkins, "Life's not one big happy place. Shit happens, and it happens in big quantities. There are plenty of other bands out there to sing about the happy stuff."

To their credit, Hollow understand the harsh realities of playing commercially untenable music in a provincial southern town. "We don't have any big ideas about signing with a major label," says Jamie Bailey. "We're not doing this for the money--because we're not making any."

But Bailey says the band is interested in mining that eclectic vein of small labels,'zines, and circuit shows that nourishes music and subcultures that receive little or no above-ground support. Purification has been reviewed in regional metal 'zines, and one such notice helped land a distribution agreement with Millennium, an Atlanta-based music catalog with nationwide circulation.

And with many of the fans left over from Metal's '80s heyday growing older and turning their attention to more mundane life pursuits, Hollow has learned the value of playing all-ages shows, casting their lot with a new generation of hair-tossers and mosh-pit ruffians--the rootless, grubby children of Zombie, Manson, and Korn.

"The people who listen to our kind of music are still out there; you see 'em come out of the woodwork when someone like Korn or Life of Agony comes to town," says Michael Bailey, rubbing the Mephistoph-olean scruff on his chin and flashing a malevolent grin. "There will eventually be another surge. It's our job to find the kids of the next wave and poison their minds while they're still young.

© Metro Pulse