The arrival of Holding Absence into modern rock’s big leagues is enough of an early indication that bleak, atmospheric post-hardcore is on the up, but the swift arrival of Parting Gift only looks to be solidifying it as a genuine force. They’ve already made enough waves to have support slots with Blood Youth and Dream State lined up, but the real defining sign of their groundswell comes from their signing to Fearless Records, a move that, coupled with the release of their EP Ensom, only looks to make this another band pencilled in to make some real waves in the near future. That is, if they can fully capitalise on their hype, something that recent track Pale has struggled to do despite being a much darker take on their chosen sound. Still, given their clear ambition and lack of apprehension towards pushing a sound that’s still emerging past its established boundaries, there was never a chance that Ensom was going to be a boring or predicatable listen.
And that’s largely the case, but it’s still not difficult to map out Parting Gift’s particular successes and shortcomings on this EP, and when the majority of them can be tied so directly to the same ones attributed to Holding Absence, that can be indicative of a band riding on the coattails of another within a scene that they’ve yet to carve a definitive niche from. None of that is to say that Ensom is bad – you get the feeling that Parting Gift had a specific set of ideas when going into this and have managed to realise almost, if not all of them – but the issues with this sound in particular remain in abundance, and that can leave Ensom feeling slightly cold.
Taken literally though, coldness definitely feels like Parting Gift’s modus operandi here, and indeed, they’re able to nail a sense of overpowering bleakness throughout, whether that’s the torrent of blastbeats that kick off Pale that are unfortunately seldom replicated, to the monochrome crunch of the guitars on Without Sin and the title track, and lyrics which wallow in darkness and loneliness in perhaps the most profound way that this scene has seen to date. It almost makes Parting Gift’s greater emphasis on the ghostly fog that bulks out the mix feel justified; it’s still there as a space-filling measure, clearly, but when they’re going for broke as hard as they are with a thematic conceit that tries to justify their own manufactured void as much as possible, that’s a respectable effort.
But with that in mind though, there’s a distinct feeling that Ensom, for all its desires to be the nihilistic, harder-edged pivot into deeper territory for this sound, lacks a certain degree of development that could take it so much further. It doesn’t help when a track like Cold couldn’t feel more perfunctory, only seemingly there to emphasis the density of Parting Gift’s darkness through whistling atmosphere that takes up almost half of an already barren listen, but Zac Vernon’s vocals have a quietness and almost a softness that doesn’t fit in with the whole idea at all. He’s probably best on Without Sin when there’s a more definitive hook and driving melody established, but his tones are much too weak to suitably carry a sound that wants to feel as heavy as this is.
Couple that with the fact that a lot of Ensom seemingly becomes lost in its own miasma, and it’s clear that Parting Gift are still very much a work in progress. There are some good foundations laid down, and the fact they’re able somewhat avoid the greatest sonic pitfall this sound has is a great opening move, but when this is being released in such close proximity to Holding Absence’s debut, it’s hard not to compare the two and wind up with Ensom falling decidedly short. That’s not to say that it’s worth giving up on Parting Gift, but they’re going to have to step up in order to compete, because what they have now won’t prove nearly as strong in the long run.
For fans of: Holding Absence, Crooks, Thousand Below
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Ensom’ by Parting Gift is released on 22nd March on Fearless Records.