ALBUM REVIEW: Holding Absence – ‘The Noble Art Of Self Destruction’

Artwork for Holding Absence’s ‘The Noble Art Of Self Destruction’

This feels very…maybe ‘premature’ is the wrong word, but it’s definitely sooner than expected. The run for The Greatest Mistake Of My Life didn’t even seem close to being over when this was announced; if anything, Holding Absence had forgone anything resembling a lull to simply get bigger and bigger. If there’s such a thing as striking while the iron is hot, it’s practically melting away for Holding Absence at this stage.

That’s also fascinating to see at play from a band whose disregard for industry machinations never ceases to amaze. In another time (say, about a decade ago), this kind of shamelessly enormous, emotional alt-rock would’ve been ripe to fall into the Britrock grist-mill for maximum commodification, even down to the very sound and production style that Holding Absence have become known for right now. But between the willingness to take that above and beyond, and a great knowledge for how to navigate the industry effectively, any danger of succumbing to that is long gone. And maybe that’s why Holding Absence have become such an inescapable and well-loved force—they feel like real people, making music that ignores boundaries between scenes and perceived strata of ‘coolness’ to simply connect.

And while a quick follow-up is the easy route to cash in on all the sweet good will that’s surging in, that’s the sort of cynicism that Holding Absence feel a million miles from. Rather, The Noble Art Of Self Destruction comes positioned as the final entry in a trilogy, capping off the band’s first era and unequivocally casting in stone the notion of them being among modern rock’s giants. Even though they’ve walked the walk and talked the talk for a good while now, Holding Absence’s stature and might has never felt so unmistakable as it is right now.

So it’s probably worth leading with the notion that, in terms of Everest-esque high points, The Noble Art Of Self Destruction isn’t quite as littered with them as its predecessor. Not like that’s a severe knock; few moments in alt-rock will likely ever be as exhilarating again as hearing Celebration Song’s first “I’m alive!”, or the all-timer hook given to Afterlife. And besides, being consistent enough to represent the rest of the Himalayas is nothing to sniff at in itself. Indeed, Holding Absence’s knack for gargantuan scope is as primed as ever, catching the jetstream of Lucas Woodland’s vocals that sends False Dawn or Honey Moon flying. It’s no secret that he’s a tremendous frontman and always has been, and he’s yet to miss a beat here. Even on Death, Nonetheless, a song that pushes him close to the screams shepherding into a more Funeral For A Friend-like angle, he remains just as gifted.

And that’s honestly just Holding Absence in a nutshell. They’ve grown into such a competent, consummate band that there’s very little to overly dissect, and even less to criticise. Perhaps on the former front, The Noble Art Of Self Destruction engages with a sound that’s more ‘traditionally’ post-hardcore. There’s some greater pace on Head Prison Blues and Her Wings that errs the slightest bit heavier, though without risking a sound that’s become so carefully fine-tuned by Holding Absence. And that’s not a criticism; arguably, that sound is at its consistent best here. Honey Moon and The Angel In The Marble are stately and grand, and among the most natural outcomes for this kind of sweeping enormity. Elsewhere, the driving alt-rock core that propels so much of this album is interwoven by charcoal textures and spectral atmosphere, simultaneously opening up as much as possible and zeroing in on some real strength at play. It’s not heavy, per se, but there’s enough in here to justify Holding Absence’s rubbing shoulders with a lot of metal and hardcore bands, when the tone isn’t far off.

‘Tone’ really is the operative word here, and in fact, on any Holding Absence release. Especially on this album though, in what’s designed as a culmination of an arc, the feeling of intense power and perseverance is so imperative, and pulled off so well. A lot of that can again be attributed to Woodland, bounding back and forth through messy paths of self-love and self-worth, falling back into his own mind but finding ways to break out of it again. He sells it with the conviction of a man undergoing life-altering revelations, with an instilled believability that the vast majority of bands opting for big, universal sentiments are never able to reach. It really is as simple as that; Holding Absence aren’t the most stellar or innovative of lyricists, but they know how to work with what they have to where no energy is wasted. Thus, The Angel In The Marble is a perfect closer, where anything maudlin or cloying is instead condensed and burning white-hot, as Woodland concludes on his own humanity as openly flawed, but also worthwhile.

Simply put, it’s the kind of thing that makes an album—and a band—like this tower above the competition to a degree that’s not even close. That’s even with counting some of the moments that don’t entirely work altogether; Scissors can feel a little clumsy on its hook, and there’s a milder thinness to These New Dreams compared to how rich and developed everything around it feels. But in the grand scheme of a Holding Absence album that weaves and tightens its threads so expertly, they’re easy to look past. The Noble Art Of Self Destruction is defined so much more by its successes than its shortcomings, where they outnumber and outgun exponentially. And when Holding Absence can embrace that and shoot the results into the stratosphere, you get another absolute winner from them. The conversations on the next generation of rock headliners and superstars are theirs to lead now; there’s no reason to the contrary.

For fans of: Funeral For A Friend, Fightstar, Caskets

‘The Noble Art Of Self Destruction’ by Holding Absence is released on 25th August on Sharptone Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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