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Thursday 31 August 2023

Reviews: Holding Absence, The Word Alive, Pleasure Forever, Owlbear (Reviews By Zak Skane & AV4APod & Matt Bladen)

Holding Absence - The Noble Art Of Self Destruction (Sharptone Records) [Alex Swift]

Womanby Street – Cardiff’s hub for independent live music – has seen many acts grace its stages on the way to further fame and renown (or on their way back down the ladder, as the case may be). If you’re looking for a Welsh act who honed their craft performing in venues like Fuel however, and have only become more impressive since, you only need to look at Holding Absence. 

Many who belong to the independent live music scene in Cardiff, feel a sense of pride in them, and rightfully so. From listening to them or watching them perform today, it’s easy to forget that Lucas Woodland started off playing drums in a punk band who specialised in silly songs, and pulling pints behind the bar at those same venues he was playing in. Even though I’ve never had a conversation with any of the members of Holding Absence personally (at least, to my knowledge), I feel immensely satisfied by their success. The vitality of small-venues, and grassroots culture is etched into their identity as a band for us, and so of course there’s a sense of delight which comes from seeing them release their third album to widespread acclaim. 

Indeed, with the band having not long ago finished touring for their brilliant 2021 record, The Greatest Mistake Of My Life, they are certainly determined to showcase the momentum they have as an act, by releasing a follow up so quickly. The fact that there has been no loss of quality on this album, shows their skill as songwriters and performers, with their mercurial blend of atmospheric ambience and visceral passion, making for a sound that is wholly theirs. 

Describing the project as a “love letter” to who they are as a band, on The Noble Art Of Self Destruction, they have crafted an expressive piece about the concept of recovery. Lead single False Dawn enraptures with wraithlike atmospherics, and a message about accepting failure. “From humble beginnings to humble ends. Turns out I don’t amount to anything. There’s a prophecy of me that’s been seen, but I just don’t believe it” Woodland sings here, giving voice to the anxieties that make us doubt ourselves. 

Appropriately then, the ebb and flow between tranquil and vicious moments like the triumphant chorus of Honey Moon or the stirring layered vocals of Death Nonetheless perfectly capture the emotional turbulence of dealing with change. Serving as a thematic sequel to their second album, this experience deals with many of the same themes of loss, and tragedy. Except, while that album was more focussed on the immediate aftermath of trauma, this feels more optimistic, charting a path to healing, and beginning to walk in that direction.

Key to giving these songs their emotional effectiveness is the combination of heartfelt vocals with immersive instrumentals, as our frontman’s cathartic singing style and tone-altering keyboard work, paired with the cascading guitar work of Scott Carey, and the impressive rhythmic alterations of Benjamin Elliot and Ashley Green, make every moment resonate. 

Pieces like A Crooked Melody and Scissors are admirable for the way they fuse mercurial synths and flowing guitars, yet are made scintillating due to the way they contrast morose and uplifting sections. Her Wings might be one of the best songs the band has ever written, even at less than three minutes, with the constant changes in tempo and cadence making for an enthralling journey through the spectrum of emotions one experiences in response to heartbreak. 

These New Dreams begins with a sombre piano, reciting the main melody before developing into an earnest ballad, while Liminal holds an intriguing set of lyrics with the words “maybe I’m stuck in the caverns of hell and the plateaus of heaven. I hang like a puppet impaled on a coil. Just waiting to find my fate”, expertly capturing the sensation of anxiety and toxic indecision.

We end on The Angel In The Marble which asks “who would have known, there’s a sacrifice for growth?” against vivid harmonies and a sense of scale that the band have perfected by this point. The question itself is one many have had to confront – sometimes growing past our failures requires trading off parts of ourselves that we don’t like or that don’t belong in our new image of ourselves. 

It’s a difficult process, yet one which we must all endure. On their third album, Holding Absence show that this kind of growth is possible, both through their deftly confessional lyricism, and their growth towards becoming a band that can effortlessly wrap personal journeys from sadness to joy into deeply emotive compositions. In that sense, while my initial interest in them may have been aided by them being rooted to a subculture that I am part of, their music transcends novelty, and boundaries. That is the reason for their success. 9/10

The Word Alive – Hard Reset (Thriller Records) [Zak Skane]

 Beginning with a surreal title, The Word Alive Is Dead, the track opens with big roomie drum sounds and the singer chanting "it ain’t the end, soon the show will begin." Whilst the singer is providing us these haunting yet optimistic passages, layers of ambient textures build up through out the track into a climatic outro. 

The following track Hard Reset provides some Slipknot styled aggression with down tuned guitar riffs, fist pumping down beats and vicious vocal passages before we get into modern soaring choruses and guitar harmonies. The romantically sadistic track Strange Love, brings us some snarling synth lines that have been ripped and torn from a Mick Gordon (modern Doom) soundtrack with bawl rumbling low tuned guitars mixed with poppy choruses. 

New Reality brings in some futuristic themed choruses and some intricately timed vocal effects to add more of a cyperpunk styled approach to the song.  The delay driven verse riffs along with poppy bass lines in Hate Me (ft. Loveless) reminisce on the That’s The Spirit era of Bring Me The Horizon, especially with the harsh vocal styles in the choruses. 

On the second half of the album the ballad Slow Burn contains late 2000s rock ballad energy with acoustic guitar passages, melodic lead guitar lines mixing with catchy mainstream rock choruses that would remind me of the band Dead by April. Fade Away (ft. Escape The Fate) returns the band back to guitar driven territory with octave effected guitar riffs, clanky bass tones, huge phat drum sounds and brief harsh vocal takes from Craig Mabbit from Escape the Fate. 

A New Empty carries on the heaviness with Djenty technical string skipping riffage and funk infused bass lines and Nocturnal Future provides classic metalcore riffs that you would hear from an All That Remains track whilst being lased with modern styled layers such delayed guitars, octave layered melodies and gothic sounding keys including 90’s sounding phased guitars.

From their optimistic opening to their soaring closer, The Word Alive still remind us that they are still one of the underrated metalcore acts of the modern era. The band still know how to go hard with songs like Hard Set, Fade Away and Nocturnal Future whist still adding new interesting layers in songs like the sexy Strange Love, the cyber punk laced New Reality and the industrial grooves of One Of Us

I found the weakest aspects of the album were guest appearances, I felt like they didn’t really add anything to the tracks due to they parts being so brief. The only that really sounded apparent to me was the Noahs contributions in One Of Us and even then, I felt like the track it self sounded like a deep cut from Bad Omen’s back catalogue. Overall a great solid listen for fans of Bad Omens, Bring Me The Horizon and Dead By April. 8/10

Pleasure Forever - The Distal EP (Sub Pop) [AV4APod]

If you're the kind of person who loves music because you love Heavy Metal, The Distal EP by Pleasure Forever might not be the Droids you're looking for. If, however, you're like me and love music and just happen to think Heavy Metal is the best delivery method for your music fix, the latest release from the San Francisco-based psychedelic rock trio just might scratch the spacey electronic itch that one develops periodically between Radiohead releases. 

Pleasure Forever's spooky, ambient, sound bed of synth and disembodied vocals are grounded by drummer David Clifford's infectious tracks that swing from funky, dance-worthy back beats to a harrowing decent, seemingly un-pleasureable forever, like on the album closer Traipsing Elegiac which feels like fighting your way through personal demons before an inevitable face-off with Gannondorf in the dungeons of Hyrule Castle.

The Distal EP begins, however, with what hip hop producers must hope to find in their stocking on Christmas: Neolithic Nonce and Sigil Pathos contain as their centerpieces simple, effective, piano melodies that only deepen upon reiteration, the later even echoing Wu Tang Clan's 1994 meditation on their more capitalistic aspirations, C.R.E.A.M. The Distal EP goes from full-on future sexy evil with To The Last Recorded Syllable Of Time (though I'm admittedly a sucker for a Macbeth misquote) into the realms of the beautiful, dark, twisted denouement on the B Side of The Terror by The Flaming Lips.

Pleasure Forever explores the seductively lethargic and deceptively upbeat on the remainder of their journey toward the end… of the album. If it's Metal you're after, you might look elsewhere, but if you're not picky about how you get your music fix, The Distal EP is as satisfying as it is unnameably unsettling. 7/10

Owlbear - Chaos To The Realm (Alone Records) [Matt Bladen]

American classic metal band Owlbear are deep in the vein of bands that play Up The Hammers festival. We're talking classic/traditional metal inspired by NWOBHM (Bastard Sons) and the American heavier sound. Owlbear is Jeff Taft formerly of Adamantis (love that band) on guitars, Leona Hayward of Project: Roenwolfe and Skelator on bass, Estee Slaughter on drums and Klaymore's Katy Scary on vocals. 

All experienced in the trad/classic metal sound, Chaos To The Realm will be an album that will get your fist pumping. Speed metal tracks such as Steel At My Side, gallop into battle with power and force as Luz The Old grooves like Grand Magus, Voyage Of The Wraith meanwhile takes a route into power/folk metal. 

Lyrically inspired by fantasy, their name comes from a Dungeons & Dragons characters so swords and sorcery is to be expected. You'll have heard it before but Owlbear do it to a high level. Adding keys to The Night Below but what they do really well is highlighted on final track Fall On Your Blade where the twin axe attack is on fire, the bass and drums are relentless and those vocals soar. 

It's the icing on a very tasty cake. Classic/power metal fans rejoice as Owlbear roll the dice and get a big hit. 8/10

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