Every so often, a band comes around that everyone seems so unanimously championing that it’s hard not to keep some kind of tabs on them. It’s definitely gotten more common thanks to the breaking down of alt-rock’s early 2010s lull, and has subsequently seen bands like Marmozets and Creeper undergo meteoric rises to become some of the most revered names in their field. But with Holding Absence, the maelstrom surrounding them has been rather unprecedented, even compared to those who’ve preceded them. After all, Creeper and Marmozets at least had EPs to give a larger taste of what they were about before they blew up; Holding Absence have had a handful of singles, and yet have still drummed up enough support to the point where this self-titled album is among one of the most highly anticipated debuts of the year. It’s not like it’s not justified either – as far as the current wave of heavily atmospheric post-hardcore goes, Holding Absence have not only shown the most promise but have arguably been the ones to popularise it – but it does feel like a full album is needed before making a proper judgement on this band; they’ve certainly been good in the past, but this is their first real chance to lock down how good they can be.
And they certainly are good…just not great. That’s a statement that might be completely at odds with the gallons of unwavering praise that’s already been thrown upon this album, and while a lot of that praise is perfectly justified, there are still cracks that show in Holding Absence’s operation that can be difficult to ignore, especially in the wider context of the album. That’s not exactly to its detriment – compared to the vast majority of the polished Britrock of the 2010s to whom the parallels can so easily be drawn, Holding Absence remain head and shoulders above virtually all of them – but it can just about hold this debut back from being something truly special instead of just a very good introduction to a new force in alt-rock.
It’s not difficult to isolate as something that’s solely an issue with the production either, and how Holding Absence look to fill every available space of their debut with ghostly, misty swell to create a delicately crafted yet imposing and downbeat atmosphere. It’s honestly not too far from how Architects presented Holy Hell in layer upon layer of monochromatic bombast for a similarly dark, oppressive mood, but where that album benefited from pairing such a style with metallic edges for that surgical precision, here, it feels like an attempt to artificially make this album seem bigger than it is, and when the same ghostly tone can be traced through pretty much every track, they begin to simply fall in line with the differentiating factors feeling less crucial. It’s even worse when the album consciously slows down, with Marigold being the piano ballad that slices any momentum down to a crawl, and Purge being the post-rock interlude that really couldn’t feel more perfunctory. Overall, it can make the album feel lacking in significant dynamism, and for a lesser band, that would be the roadblock preventing them from proceeding any further at all.
Fortunately Holding Absence aren’t a lesser band, and the fact that they more or less nail everything else leaves any production gripes as a relatively minor dip among some unwaveringly consistent strengths. For one, despite how deeply entrenched in 2010s Britrock this album is, it’s not afraid to channel some harsher tendencies like the avalanches of guitars on Your Love (Has Ruined My Life) or the emotional hardcore bloodletting of Last Of The Evening Light. Cues from more visceral brands of post-hardcore feel like such an integral element of Holding Absence’s sound, splitting the difference between them and much more accessible alt-rock for something that remains emotionally vigorous with a scale and scope that really does it justice. The ambition is clear to see, and when Holding Absence really swing for the fences and work outside of the Britrock boundaries that could’ve so easily fenced them in for good, the results really do strike a chord with how much power they bring.
The main source of that, though, comes in Lucas Woodland’s vocals, arguably the sturdiest thread that ties each part of Holding Absence together and easily the one that causes everything to coalesce the most. The way that dejected melancholy slides so effortlessly into bleary-eyed hardcore catharsis on You Are Everything and Last Of The Evening Light has mileage on its own, but the writing is what really makes it pop. Themes of love and heartbreak that, on their own, would feel rather gauche become fleshed out with remarkable eloquence and lyrical twists evoking gothic poetry, and for an album like this for which atmosphere is so key, the palatable bleakness of Perish and Monochrome have so much more weight behind them. There are definitely moments that stumble slightly and can’t quite capture a similar sense of presence (A Godsend is probably the most notable example), but like a lot of what Holding Absence show here, the hallmarks of greatness remain fairly consistent.
Even if they haven’t hit the high watermark that’s been set for them in every aspect just yet, there’s every reason to believe that it’s coming sooner rather than later. A debut as powerful and expressive as this is nothing to sniff at, and even with production that can see that dissipate more often than would be preferable, Holding Absence are pushing forward at a remarkably swift clip. Even with its flaws, it’s incredibly easy to see why this album has connected with as many people as it already has – for Britrock that’s been so starved of legitimate emotion and power for so long, an album like this could be what sparks the paradigm shift for something so much more impactful, and with a bit more refinement, Holding Absence will find themselves front and centre for a long time to come.
For fans of: Casey, Being As An Ocean, Parting Gift
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Holding Absence’ by Holding Absence is out now on Sharptone Records.