Album Review: Foals – Holy Fire

FOALS-2“A stronger, yet seemingly more controlled affair, Holy Fire sees Foals find their creative sweet spot and exploit it to it’s full potential…”

Foals  |  Holy Fire

Patience is a wonderful thing, and Foals have always used it to their advantage in the five-years they have basked in the alternative spotlight. Taking an organic, unhurried approach, they have effortlessly managed to adapt to the changing musical landscape with each release. Transitioning from the volatile fiddly intricacies of their critically acclaimed debut “Antidotes” to the chilled comedown vibes of “Total Live Forever” back in 2010 was no doubt a bold move that ultimately paid off, adding some much needed profundity to their sound, showcasing them as a band that possessed both longevity and unpredictability.

When they returned at the tail end of last year with ‘Inhaler’, it seemed to take everyone by surprise (and not just because of “that jacket“). The considerably heavier style, stadium sized chorus and interesting choice of knitwear was pleasantly unexpected, and it’s stark contrast with follow up single ‘My Number’, (a classic optimistic Foals cut) made it near impossible to predict which direction they were heading in on their third release. It is only after listening to Holy Fire in full that everything comes into perfect focus, and it becomes apparent that this is the album Foals have been working towards their whole career.

A stronger, yet seemingly more controlled affair, Holy Fire sees Foals find their creative sweet spot and exploit it to it’s full potential.

The slow burning instrumental prelude that opens the record firmly establishes the context to their new viscous direction. Three minutes of atmospheric buildup erupt into a distorted breakdown, a strong opening by anyones standards (though you cant help but think it will get skipped by many after the first listen). Leading into the two singles, one is met with a sense of familiarity, and though they were already popular, both My Number and Inhaler seem to make more sense in this milieu.

Holy Fire is not “heavier” in the traditional sense of the word, but instead denser and more detailed, as the signature Foals sound oozes oomph in a more obvious sense than ever before. The likes of ‘Bad Habit’ and ‘Everytime’ turn those once stereotypical intricacies into arena size anthems, without taking away those all important delicate nuances that make Foals different from the new wave of “guitar bands” populating Radio 1’s playlists at the moment.

An abundance of ideas emanate from each track, firing from all sides of the alternative spectrum, as the Test Icicles-esque austerity of “Providence” sits alongside the concentrated simplicity of “Late Night” (a swooning atmospheric cut that wouldn’t seem out of place on “Total Live Forever”). These frenetic traits would be overwhelming and distorted in most other circumstances, but when put in context with Foals’ previous work it all makes perfect sense, as the record shifts seamlessly through different gears of intensity.

Standout track “Milk & Black Spiders” comes to define the album, as reverb tinged guitars sit alongside fragile outcries from Philippakis, before building into a montage worthy breakdown that sounds like a blissful culmination of everything Foals have released in the last five years.

Perhaps the most resonant quality of Holy Fire is the lyrical development, as the weightier sounds are counteracted by Philippakis’ most passionate vocals to date, providing some much-needed emotive undertow.  Sentimental catharsis comes in spades, and though this is Foals’ most empowered record yet, there is an overhanging sense of vulnerability that only becomes apparent after multiple listens. This is not a simplistic record by anyone’s standards, and it becomes increasingly clear that every aspect has been meticulously calculated to achieve that perfect balance between modest and complex.

Holy Fire is a remarkable album, and it’s more expansive sound will see Foals make the inevitable transition to arenas. In our opinion this couldn’t have come any sooner.



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