Holding Absence Is the Scene’s Next Great Rock Breakthrough

In their homeland, Holding Absence is no longer the next big thing. With the release of their second album, The Greatest Mistake of My Life, they’re now the United Kingdom’s everything — at least within their musical corner. 

The Welsh rockers’ new record topped the UK Rock charts and hit #3 on the overall UK charts, and it continues to make waves among the alternative and metal realms. This includes lots of positive media reception in the underground circuit, from outlets that include Kerrang!, Loudwire, and Rock Sound (where they graced the cover, coupled with exclusive merch).

But we should’ve seen it coming, the coverage and acclaim. Or, at least, I did. Holding Absence spent the past few years simmering a brew of media praise, widespread exposure, and an increasingly appealing sound — and in 2021, it’s starting to boil.

Though the pandemic put a stake in their ability to connect with new fans, pre-coronavirus they managed to open for Sleeping with Sirens, Being As an Ocean, and As It Is — the perfect bands to support for word-of-mouth success. All three artists boast immensely dedicated fans, many of them younger — and they’re the types of artists you’d expect to maintain a steady group of “superfans.”

Just ask Jason Aalon Butler about what opening for Sleeping with Sirens can do for your audience: They did so back in 2014, and their next headlining tour averaged a much lower age demographic. After all, teenagers make up a big part of the “scene,” as they’re trendsetters and — most importantly — the future.

Holding Absence formed in Cardiff, Wales in 2015. Since then, they’ve put out two full-length LPs, both of which have been well received.

Holding Absence’s self-titled debut was released to positive marks. But what I recall most about that record was the talk of “potential.” This was a band that hadn’t quite hit their strides yet, but we could see their artistic vision and where they could go with it. A sound that brought together the dynamics of hardcore groups like Dayseeker and Too Close to Touch and the mass appeal of influences that range from 30 Seconds to Mars to Underoath, the band was on to something. 

We just didn’t know what they could turn into — until now.

The Greatest Mistake of My Life improves upon its debut every way: better production, bigger choruses, catchier hooks, and more connective lyrics. The songs build and crash with an epic finesse: driving metal guitars mesh often mesh with piano, while layered vocals and audio clips produce a dynamic of urgency and emotional instability. But Running Punks describes it better than I ever could: “It has more tendrils than Raiders of the Lost Ark. It allowed me to swing from song to song like Tarzan with tears in his eyes.”

This upward progression became apparent when the group released two non-album singles last year (“Gravity” and “Birdcage”), which bridged the gap with noticeable production and vocal improvements. On the full-length, they keep albums like Sempiternal, This Is War, and Dear G-d… in the back pocket as takeoff points, and when they get going, they absolutely take off.

I like to think of Holding Absence’s trajectory as what I wish Being As an Ocean had become, if they didn’t lose themselves in their ambition (until they returned to form with “Catch the Wind” this year). It’s hard to stay grounded on a project like this, but their sophomore release avoids the pitfalls of a band seeking stardom and chasing perfection. There’s nary a self-absorbed lyric or overindulgent instrumental to be found.

Much of the success lies in frontman Lucas Woodland taking the lead. He carries the record’s melodies with improved vocal range and power — one of the things that held back their debut (at times, his voice just couldn’t pierce through the wall of sound). He’s also more emotionally vulnerable on this release, touching on the Mount Rushmore of emo thematics: relationships, depression, addiction, and religion.

It’s easy for someone like me to connect with “Curse Me with Your Kiss,” a single 20-something who sees a song about a lost lover and immediately hits play. But Lucas is not single, he’s married. He conveys himself so genuinely anyway, preventing the song from feeling awkward or forced. It’s the same way we listen to breakup songs just to relate to something, even if we aren’t going through a separation ourselves. The frontman continues to bleed authenticity when revealing his struggles to find faith (“Nomoreroses”) and happiness (“Celebration Song”).

I can see why Lucas’ authenticity bleeds through, too, with the way he talks about the underlying motivations behind the record. The title comes from a recording by a distant relative, whose song “The Greatest Mistake of My Life” was uncovered after a conversation with his grandmother. There’s nothing manufactured — it’s a real-life story from a real-life place, and it allows the band to brand themselves as the tattered emos they are without fear of appearing disingenuous. Plus, Lucas — the self-proclaimed “emo boi” — carries himself with unashamed self-awareness.

At times, the expansive gravitas leads the group to sacrifice some of their mainstream appeal, but it’s well worth it. The immaculate hooks of “Curse Me with Your Kiss” and “Die Alone (In Your Lover’s Arms)” deserve a third go-around. However, I don’t think anyone is complaining about the overlapping vocals of Lucas and his sister, Caitlin, on the latter that bring it to an epic conclusion.

The band modernizes one of my favorite Radiohead tunes with “In Circles,” Lucas basking in the existential gloom of “Let Down” as he touches on the mundanity of everyday life. From the opening line (“Crushed like a bug”), you can sense the inspiration and realize what Holding Absence is embodying: the all-encompassing rock album that hits every topic and every feeling. No matter what you’re going through, this record has the medicine. It goes down with quite the alt-rock punch, too — guitars punch and crash at the perfect times.

The Greatest Mistake of My Life may not be OK Computer, but it’s not trying too hard anyway. Plus, it’s already found a niche in its corner of the post-hardcore world. It’s a trajectory that makes sense, following the lead of contemporaries like Beartooth, I Prevail, Crown the Empire, and Emarosa — all bands who originated in the hardcore realm before broadening their rock allure.

Loathe combines downtuned guitars and shoegaze textures on I Let It in and It Took Everything, which caught fire to become SharpTone Records’ premier 2020 release (Photo Credit: Paul Harries).

It’s in this unique corner of music that we find a handful of artists fighting for mass appeal among the “scene” audience of heavy listeners. I like to call it “Revolvercore,” since acts like Architects, Gojira, Turnstile, and Code Orange are all over Revolver magazine and similar publications — and deservedly so. They’ve made waves with passionate fanbases and widespread notoriety within their respective heavy subgenres, while continually sharpening their sounds to come across as more “commercial” (don’t worry, they’re not “selling out,” if that’s what you think).

Though not quite “mainstream,” among listeners like us, these bands are everywhere. Holding Absence doesn’t fit neatly under the hard rock or metal umbrella. Yet, they fit the “Revolvercore” definition perfectly as a post-hardcore band with rock trimmings — hence why they’re playing Download Festival next year with Korn and Deftones. Their UK-concentrated success hasn’t stopped them from producing one of the more highly anticipated releases in the first half of 2021 — even yours truly saw this thing coming, and it still managed to surpass my expectations.

To understand how it came to be, we have to travel back in time to revisit another UK band’s sophomore record, which has done the exact thing for them that The Greatest Mistake of My Life is about to do for Holding Absence. That band is Loathe, and that album is 2020’s I Let It in and It Took Everything.

Integrating ambient and atmospheric elements to a progressive metalcore formula is something many bands have tried before, but not all of them have struck gold. With Loathe, it was different. Metal Hammer called it “impossible to pigeonhole.” But you’ll hear talk of Emmure, Deftones, and even Breaking Benjamin — all bands that were the “gateway” into metal for so many. Is Loathe on the fast track to this level? Perhaps that’s premature, but the level of critical acclaim and end-of-the-year lists they made certainly have helped make them a household name in metal.

Holding Absence and Loathe are two of the most upward-trending bands on the SharpTone Records roster. It’s no stretch to lump them together, either: They recorded a split together back in 2017, before the former had even released their debut.

SharpTone was co-founded by former Sumerian Records vice president Shawn Keith, and I like to think of it as the metal label for grown-up scene kids who have outgrown Sumerian and similar labels like Rise Records. While She Sleeps, We Came As Romans, and Of Mice & Men are their biggest names — all of which began elsewhere before revitalizing stagnant careers with on their new label.

The reason why SharpTone is tailor-made for breakthroughs: They’ve tapped into “Revolvercore” without losing sight of their tenable metalcore aesthetic. All their roster has done is produce well-received albums that have earned crossover success — from Holding Absence and Loathe’s two records to more nuanced metal acts Currents and Polaris. Exposure is, of course, a great goal, but Code Orange wouldn’t be all over WWE if Forever and Underneath weren’t raved about in every review column and comment field on the internet.

Holding Absence doesn’t do anything groundbreaking with their sound. Their sonic predecessors came in the early-to-mid-2010s in Too Close to Touch, Hands Like Houses, Being As an Ocean, and Casey. Why they’re set to break through in the rock world, however, is why the aforementioned bands didn’t: Many of them became lost in stagnation or lost their core identity altogether (Casey, unfortunately, is no longer with us at all).

Holding Absence is carefully expanding their palette, and it sets them on the same timeline as some of their favorite rock staples. Lucas does admit that he’s a “product of my parents’ record collection,” so you hear everything from gothic rock to rugged grunge to thick shoegaze — all from his favorite British bands, of course.

Lucas Woodland credits The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, and Radiohead as three of his biggest influences — all of which are major players in the history of British music (Photo Credit: Kerrang!).

The first time I listened to “Beyond Belief,” it took me back to days listening to The Cure’s Disintegration and Wish and basking in the happy-sad tinge of it all. In fact, Lucas even described the song as if The Cure “was a 2000s emo band.” He does his best Thom Yorke impression on the closing piano hymn and title track, a cover of the Gracie Field song that gave the album its name. (Lucas even covered Radiohead’s “No Surprises” on piano, so he clearly loves OK Computer as much or more than I do.)

The Greatest Mistake of My Life is anything but what its title suggests. It’s the perfect move at the perfect time for a band on the verge of breaking through. But it’s also “no surprise” (sorry, Thom, I had to) that Holding Absence has gotten to this point. They have everything they need to grow into the band I hope they can become: A set of distinguished influences to emulate, a group of ambitious and improving players (including a charismatic emo figurehead), and the perfect environment to transition from the “scene” into the rock world.

It helps, too, that Holding Absence wrote a collection of absolutely breathtaking songs for this new record. Now, we watch them follow the footsteps of their friends and fellow success story in Loathe — and hopefully tour with them once this wretched pandemic is finally over.

Featured Photo Credit: Kerrang!

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