Holy Fawn

Death Spells

Written by: KW on 28/12/2018 14:51:56

I always love it when unsuspecting albums turn out to be hidden gems in the rough, and today I’m taking a look at an album in the underground that has taken a lot of international reviewers by storm. And I might as well spoil already, that I am here to join those ranks. Holy Fawn from Tempe, AZ — a completely unknown band to me before this sophomore release entitled “Death Spells” was released in September — have conjured up some of the most hypnotic music you’ll hear in 2018; an engaging piece of heavy, mellow art which should leave a lasting mark in the post-rock scene for years to come.

The first track “Dark Stone” serves as an outstanding introduction to the sound Holy Fawn revolve around. Beautiful, scenic ambience fills the landscape before being abruptly interrupted by grinding synth noise from the bass and guitars like a jump-scare in a horror film, followed by thunderous drums very reminiscent of something you might hear on a Cult of Luna album. This juxtaposition is one of the carrying factors of “Death Spells” as an album, combining overwhelming barrages of noise with soft guitar melodies and post-rock sensibilities. This is topped off by the vocals, which sound like a sadder version of Jonas Bjerre from Mew, with his high-pitched voice and heavy usage of falsetto in his fantastic vocal melodies that occasionally develop into agonizing screams along the lines of what you’d expect from a blackgaze artist.

The production is absolutely spot on in basically every aspect. Everything just sounds huge and the clever usage of guitar effects makes the clean passages sound otherworldly and pulsating, while the distortion at times sounds like a roaring buzzsaw. The vocals might seem low in the mix to some people, but I think it adds to the aesthetic of the record perfectly. They seem to be in a constant struggle against the smothering atmosphere created by several layers of reverb and delay effects, almost completely drowning when the noise is turned all the way to eleven, like on the phenomenal second song, “Arrows”, which offers one of the more accessible song structures on the album with clear verses and choruses. However, there is a crescendo of twinkling clean guitars going on here which later transforms into a slow, apocalyptic, one-note doom riff with a concluding, chill-inducing wall of noise of searing distortion and screams. This contrast is a formula the band follows on most outlets on the record, but it never really gets old, as each tracks delivers its own haunting atmospheres in droves. “Drag Me into the Woods” and “Seer” follow a more hypnotic approach to songwriting with ever-repeating melodies, where the latter stands as one of my favourite moments on the record and one of the best post-rock songs I’ve heard in years. Everything just comes together to create this depressing blanket of sound to wrap the listener in, the high-pitched vocal cries coming from the ether, the rumbling bass from the deep, the swaying, pitch-shifting lead melody, which later just slightly changes the melody alongside the surrounding chords to make the track sound way more uplifting, feeling like having overcome a drowning darkness to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a very powerful piece of music that never ceases to make the hairs stand on my neck by virtue of its beauty.

But “Death Spells” also includes an outlier in terms of overall style, which can be found on “Yawning”. Here, Holy Fawn combine the atmospheres and melancholic style found on the rest of the record with a catchy, danceable post-punk vibe. It’s still icy cold in its aesthetic, but much more approachable than the rest of the record I feel, which makes it a welcome change of pace in between these other slow-burners. Another one of my favourite cuts though, has to be “Take Me with You”, in which the post-rock buildup reaches the highest climax in spectacular, desolate fashion. Ryan Osterman’s soothing voice is complemented by the ever rising tension of the pulsating, airy synths and crunchy guitar tones before exploding into feedback, heavy, slow riffs and tremolo picked leads. In my interpretation, the song revolves around the last words before a loved one’s passing, begging them to bring them along to the afterlife, which the dramatic music perfectly evokes as well. It’s a stunning, emotional piece that perfectly utilizes the swerving crescendos of post-rock to deliver in one moment sonic bliss, and in another sonic assault. “Sleep Tongue” lightens the mood in a more uplifting conclusion to the album, which ties everything we’ve heard up till this point nicely together. The more catchy side of the band mentioned before is definitely present here in the first half of the track before the mesmerizing, perpetual atmospheres bring the album to a close.

“Death Spells” truly is a transcendental musical experience. While music in itself can be an entertaining form of media, and greatly written songs don’t have to be overly artistic to be enjoyable, Holy Fawn have succeeded in creating an album in which the soundscapes are so carefully crafted to envelop the listener in its world, that it is hard to not completely lose yourself in the rivers of abrasive, yet hauntingly beautiful noises. It is so consistent in its tone and delivery that the mental pictures provoked by the music all start to blend together seamlessly in cathartic, melancholic imagery. It is very introverted, almost depressing at times to listen to, but there are also glimpses of light coming in through the thick fog of darkness and ghostly apparitions, providing a looming sense of danger intertwined with blissful serenity — something that is pretty hard to put into words properly, if I’m honest. It is mostly not a traditional, catchy album, but a fully mesmerizing séance instead that just keeps spellbinding me with every repeated listen. Turn the lights down and completely focus on the sounds at play here, and you will be massively rewarded. “Death Spells” is a hallmark in the post-rock/metal genre that any fan of the atmospheric side of music should listen to. It is just that fantastic and without a doubt in my mind one of the very finest releases of 2018.

9

Download: Arrows, Drag Me into the Woods, Yawning, Seer, Take Me with You
For the fans of: Alcest, Cult of Luna, pg.lost, Slowdive
Listen: Facebook

Release date 14.9.2018
Whelmed Records

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