Album Review: Holy Esque – At Hope’s Ravine

At Hope’s Ravine

Holy_Esque_-_At_Hopes_RavineReleased 26th February 2016

Words: Gary Feeney

Holy Esque have been a feature on the Glasgow scene for a few years now, but over the last 12 months they’ve stepped up a gear with some sizeable live shows and are now – four years after their debut single – on the verge of releasing their first album At Hope’s Ravine. They’re a band I’ve been meaning to check out for a while but as it happens sometimes with these things, I never quite got round to it apart from a few passing listens on the likes of Soundcloud, so I was quite excited about getting the opportunity to do this review. It seemed, after all, a good way of making up for lost time and after a few listens I was left lamenting that lost time.

Now, before we get started here, it’s probably easiest to introduce what would otherwise be a sizeable elephant in the room: Holy Esque (to me) resemble Glasvegas. A lot. Admittedly, that may not seem as obvious if you don’t spend as much time listening to Glasvegas as I do, but nonetheless, there’s parts of At Hope’s Ravine that remind me quite forcibly of them – not any particular song or album, but you can feel the same background, the same city permeating throughout the entire piece. To me, this is not a remotely bad thing; quite the opposite, in fact. I feel like I should get this comparison out the road though, otherwise I’d be tempted to drop constant references in…so now that’s done, it’ll be easier to get on with trying to describe just how great an album this is.

Opening with a pulsing synth drone and a chiming, reverb-laden guitar line, Prism gives us our first taste of Holy Esque and more particular, the quite unique vocal stylings of singer Pat Hynes (more on which later). Holy Esque go for a more compact, heavier and grittier guitar sound to the band I already mentioned, and once you get used to it (approximately a minute in…) any comparisons fade and you take Holy Esque on their own merits regardless of perceived similarities to anyone else – with an album of this quality, they’ve more than earned that right. The drums are heavy, the bass pulses and the second guitar provides a meaty bed for the lead lines, but it’s the gravel-voiced sometimes snarl, sometimes serenade of Hynes’ voice that demands your attention right and lodges in your head from the opening track.

It’s a fine opener, but the following track is even better. Rose, first released back in 2012, boasts a monster of a guitar riff and just sounds so utterly epic that it’s hard to believe that it’s on a debut album. Propelled by the riff a rapid drum beat and a vocal delivery full of yearning from Hynes, it’s the perfect showcase for the band: it’s dark, gritty, and displays the straight-from-the-heart earnestness that defines the album, but also uplifting at the same time. I’d find it hard to look past this as my favourite track, although it has tough competition.

At Hope’s Ravine is the kind of album that feels like a journey, of sorts, with each song takes a slightly different tempo and approach, a prime example being the segue of Covenant (III) into Silences: the first is a more introspective affair, whilst the latter is quite a more poppy, melody-driven number with a rousing chorus that you’ll find your toes tapping and head nodding to before it hits a soaring chorus.

Further displaying the different paths Holy Esque explore is the anthemic Doll House, a 5 minute almost-power ballad which showcases one of the most remarkable aspects of the band’s sound. Whilst I’ve mentioned how Pat Hynes’ voice stands out in the early tracks, the most distinguishing feature is the vibrato effect he can produce and which there’s no real way to describe with words. At first I wondered if it was some kind of digital effect, although perhaps I can be forgiven for that – the man himself has admitted that he didn’t know he could do it until recently. Once you notice on Doll House though, you’ll pick it out much easier across the board on future listens.

Another highlight is My Wilderness, which along with Doll House bookends the Joy Division-esque Tear. Starting with slow, sparse, brooding verses, the song progresses to a soaring choruses before building to a crescendo which promises to be a treat on the live stage: the drums pound, the bass kicks in and as it builds and builds, you can close your eyes and almost see the strobe lights and dry ice machines kicking into overdrive as the noise washes over you. It’s yet another example of Holy Esque’s ambition and knack for grandeur which never sounds overblown.

The album comes to a close on the title track and, as seems somewhat fitting, is another soaring, slow-building epic with another heartfelt, yearning vocal from Hynes’ (perhaps his finest) to the fore and as it comes to its climactic close, it hits you just how immersed you were in the album.

With all good albums, it tends to take some time to properly appreciate them and to uncover all of their hidden secrets, so I feel like it’d be an appropriate compliment to close on by saying that this is by far one of the most impressive, bold and powerful debut albums I’ve heard in many, many years…and I only first heard it two days ago. It will take a very strong album indeed to challenge At Hope’s Ravine when the album of the year awards come around.

Listen to At Hope’s Ravine here:

 

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One Response to “Album Review: Holy Esque – At Hope’s Ravine”
  1. garyfeeney says:

    Reblogged this on General Smuts.

    Like

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