King Giant tell of war ghosts, bloodshed, and redemption on killer ‘Dismal Hollow’

In the 1980s, the Parents Music Resource Center, the silly-ass PMRC, set out on a misguided mission to expose the evils and dangers of hard rock and heavy metal. Artists as diverse as Tom Petty and Twisted Sister were put under the Washington wives’ blade to squirm and repent, though the total opposite ended up happening as the committee ended up looking like the morons that they were. It’s a good thing “Dismal Hollow,” the second effort from King Giant, wasn’t in Tipper Gore’s grubby hands, otherwise her head might have exploded.

Of course, there’s nothing sick, evil or deranged about King Giant, unless you’re referring to the stories and characters they dreamt that inhabit these eight songs. As for those folks, it’s not always bloodshed for the sake of it, as you need to invest time getting to know the people and situations that make up “Dismal Hollow” (out on their own Graveyard Hill). You might even see a little bit of yourself in some of them, even if you don’t participate in some of the activities they do. But ultimately these are stories, often gruesome ones, and if they fell into the wrong hands – you know, a group like the PMRC – the misinterpretation fest would be in full swing.

If you’re not familiar with King Giant’s music, it’s not terribly easy to explain. There’s a dirty Southern rock vibe for sure, an Appalachian folk sensibility, some doom, some classic metal. When I hear them, I typically think of Clutch, Down, ’90s Corrosion of Conformity, and Danzig, mostly because of Dave Hammerly’s baritone below and yelps that sound a heck of a lot like Glenn’s singing. But not in a copycat sense. It just sounds like when he opens his mouth, that’s what comes out, and there’s no trying to shape it into something as homage. I love his vocals, and they add an extra element to the storytelling vibe that goes on with these songs. And trust me, even if you don’t plan to, you will be sucked into the worlds created by each track.

The band hails from Virginia, a pivotal state in the Civil War struggle, and the opener “Appomattox,” named after the site of the conflict’s bloody final battle and where the Confederacy’s Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant, tells the side of soldiers who came up on the wrong end of history. Hammerly howls about “young men, young lives,” who do their deeds in the killing fields, until the whole thing comes to an end in Wilmer McLean’s parlor. Doesn’t matter where you live, it’s impossible not to be affected by this song, that revisits one of the saddest eras in American history. I cannot say enough good things about this track, and you should go out of your way to hear it. In fact, here’s the video below (it’s, um, decidedly not Civil War-ish).

From there, things mostly stay grisly and ugly, and the band’s powerful galloping and trudging make enduring such harrowing tales almost a joyous experience, as perverse as that may sound. “The Tale of Mathias” reveals the grit of a battered woman, bruised and abused by a drunken lover, but eventually she has her day. “He didn’t think I had it in me/He coughed and then he died/Last time he ever laid a hand on me,” are the words that come raging from Hammerly’s mouth, and the conviction in which he delivers those lines lets you know what corner he’s in. I’m in the same corner. “Pistols and Penance” starts and ends gently, on the strains of acoustic guitars and eventually cello, but in between is a stomper that speaks of a small town girl who gets a little too deep into the clutches of a stranger and loses everything. The guitar work from guitarists Todd Ingram and David Kowalski provide the proper thunder and swagger and leave you exhausted. “The Fog” is eerie and doomy, with a tale that seems to be about bootleggers running moonshine, and make no mistake, these boys will put a bullet in you before they let you get in their way. Closer “O’Drifter” sends this collection off with a bang, as Hammerly tells of a man driving his sunburnt orange Camaro down the highway, looking for ladies to pick up, have his way with, and eventually dump back onto the shoulder. It’s criminal and sick, but it’s just a story, kids. And the song packs a filthy wallop that’ll have you coming back to hear the yarn spun again.

King Giant are an honest, warts-and-all rock machine that always gives you all they have emotionally, musically and creatively. You need a breather when it’s all over, like you just watched an old slasher film that kept you on edge. You take these journeys with the band, my friends, and the music on “Dismal Hollow” captures you. Just don’t live like some of the people you hear about here, otherwise you might find some lead in your chest courtesy of someone who knows an undesirable when he or she sees one.

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