You can say that Holding Absence are well past the venue sizes they’re on on this tour, but that’s also kind of the point. They’re between albums right now, which lends itself to something a but more atypical overall, hence why things carry a noticeably different vibe this time than what they ‘should’. They could easily fall on the heavy hitters of their last album—also their most successful, at that—but that’s here more to fill things out. Rather, the lion’s share of set space goes to deep cuts and much older singles that countless other bands this far in with a mainstream rock platform this solid would simply cast aside. But for Holding Absence, a band whose ‘for the fans’ mentality ultimately favours the intimacy of an endeavour like this (and for whom a big, receptive fanbase as a sold-out show will lap up), it’s a cool gambit to make.
That extends right down to the opening act, which has been a different local representative every night of the tour for a list that spans an impressively broad reach of British rock. In the case of tonight’s starters Maybank, they fill a niche of emo that’s outside the cross-section of this bill, but that’s far from the truth within the wider scene. Granted, their particular case of Local Band Syndrome is nothing close to as debilitating as it could be, and on songs like the bouncier The Red String, they pull out some legitimately strong hooks and melodies already. Maybe they’re a little hamstrung by an overall lack of ingenuity, and having to rely on a fill-in vocalist as sickness cover can’t help (even if he does a fine enough job). Still, it’s not bad overall; Maybank being held together by proficiency and potential is far from the worst thing at this point.
Even so, Void Of Vision arrive to swiftly pick things up. Like, by a lot. Like, by enough to significantly close the gap between a run-of-the-mill metalcore band on record, and far more of a force live. It’s a case of the nu-metal-adjacent riffage and smothering atmosphere sticking way more tangibly, to where energy takes the wheel over standout songcraft, but that works supremely well in this atmosphere. And while the meaty, metallic nature of Void Of Vision’s sound is deeply appealing live—the assertions of a band founded on “a whole lot of bounce and groove” are not wrong in the slightest—it’s frontman Jack Bergin who’s the most concentrated source of said energy. With his shaved head, darkened eyes and dressed in a studded blazer and skirt, he easily casts the most distinctive silhouette, compounded by the moments of viciousness that find him thrive the most. What Void Of Vision can lack in some dynamism is made up multiple times over when they really commit to something more, and in the incendiary ferality of Hell, Hell, Hell and the jagged electronic dressing of Dominatrix to amp up its volatility, that’s a pocket that’s exceptionally well capitalised on.
But speaking of energy, it’d be remiss to not to mention the notable surge and uptick that comes when Holding Absence themselves take the stage. It’s been gradually building throughout the night—that aforementioned receptiveness has been on full show, pleasingly—but it goes without saying that one of the best-loved bands in alt-rock’s current incarnations packs the full capability to send it through the roof. That’s far from a shock though, in what’s a performance blessed with some of the crispest, clearest sound a room this small is likely to allow. It really can’t be overstated how good this all sounds; there’s not a single cutback made in depth or scale, and that bleaker, more monochromatic quality of their sound remains within a towering live act. And with Lucas Woodland at the helm, radiating gratitude and a boyish charm outside of songs and a screaming, bottomless might within them, it’s a fine point placed on Holding Absence maybe being one of their scene’s finest live acts.
That doesn’t seem like too contentious of an opinion; feed it to anyone here tonight and they’d likely agree. That’s the vicegrip that Holding Absence have right now, a level of dedication that’s certainly not insignificant. It’d be easy to dismiss it as just another band at the eye of a stan-culture storm, but this is a markedly different phenomenon than anything in that ballpark. This isn’t superficial excitement in the slightest, and when that extends all the way down to a set predominantly comprised of deep cuts met with unfettered, unwavering adulation, it’s infectious to be among it. They drop Aching Longing, a track from their split EP with Alpha Wolf that didn’t pull much wider traction outside of it, and it’s met from the crowd with the fervour of a signature song—and that’s even before they bring out Void Of Vision’s Jack Bergin to guest! It’s a similar case on Penance, in which Loathe bassist Feisal El-Khazragi (formerly of Holding Absence themselves, too) is brought out to play guitar, and it goes down a treat.
If you want the apex of impressiveness though, look no further than the confidence of Holding Absence themselves. Even their oldest songs are thrown out with the aplomb of known favourites and received accordingly, without a wobble or uncertain err among them. Chiefly, it’s evidence of how deeply Holding Absence’s well of bangers runs, for a set that’s never shy on momentum or a nitro-charged hook at every turn. For as much as the closing pair of Afterlife and Wilt feels like a culmination of excellence, it’s really no more climactic than anything else they’ve pulled out tonight. Shuffle this setlist in any order you please, and you’d get the same result—a flowing, cohesive performance, peaking and troughing at all the right junctures, and a feel that most would struggle to match, let alone surpass.
Words by Luke Nuttall