By: Rich Buley
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Released on February 26, 2016 via Beyond The Frequency
Five years is a long time to come up with a debut album, and whatever the reason for the delay, it is fair to say that Glaswegian post punk four piece Holy Esque have lost some of the early momentum that a hugely promising debut EP and a host of scintillating, abrasive live performances had given them, with regular Radio One airplay and a slot on the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2013 concrete evidence of this.
However, they’ve done a decent job of staying in the realm of public consciousness since that initial buzz. A string of single releases, a four track EP last year, and a willingness to play live just about anywhere, including no fewer than 2 dates in Cornwall (!) on their upcoming UK tour. But perhaps the album’s title, At Hope’s Ravine, is indicative of the band’s awareness that it is probably make or break time, as well also acting as a bleak and portentous depiction of life in the harshest tenements of their home city.
Despite 2015’s Submission EP pushing the band unexpectedly into unchartered, electro-pop territory, Holy Esque have a signature sound that is not a million miles away from being the bastard offspring of fellow Scots The Twilight Sad, Glasvegas and early Simple Minds (although I am aware that we have potentially over-recruited in that regard). They are also something of a throwback to the classic post punk and new wave of the 1980s, with Echo & The Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs additionally useful points of reference. But without a doubt, what gives the band its distinctive and intriguing edge is the larynx-shredding, gravel-gargling vocals of Pat Hynes. I have heard some wracked, anguished voices in my time, but this one sounds as if it has been honed on a daily mouthwash of bleach and fence paint.
Of the eleven tracks on show here, six have seen the light day on previous releases, but this is the only real disappointment with an album that positively bristles with a melancholic fervour, all set to rip-roaring, often head-spinning instrumentation.
‘Prism’ is an intense, claustrophobic opener, with swirling feedback and guitar voracious enough that it could easily find a place on The Twilight Sad’s debut album, before ‘Rose’ briefly lifts the pervading sense of gloom with an upbeat arrangement and a strikingly insistent riff.
Elsewhere, previous singles ‘Silences’ and ‘St’ best demonstrate why Holy Esque were made such an enormous fuss of a few years ago, by way of rasping, towering indie rock, the like of which you disappointingly don’t hear much of these days, while previously unheard titles such as the haunting, gothic tones of ‘Covenant III’ and the stadium-sized arrangements of the mid-paced (and very Glasvegas like) ‘Doll House’ and closing title track, suggest there is plenty of life and potential in the (not even in the slightest, actually) old dog yet.
For too long the indie rock and post punk genres have been dominated by beige, haircutty hipsters with nothing to say, either in their anaemic music or persona in the press. Along with the likes of Savages and Eagulls, Spectres and Fat White Family, there appears to be a slow and welcome redressing of the balance, in favour of rage and vitriol. Holy Esque very much have a place here, although with a more refined but equally intoxicating blend of furious, sparkling melodies accompanying an animated, agitated frontman.