The third album from Oxford indie quintet, Foals, takes its form in Holy Fire. The band are widely known for their feel-good, party vibe in the form of bouncing guitar riffs and rolling drum patterns, their 2008 debut Antidotes introduced this gaining them massive recognition in the indie scene. Total Life Forever was their 2010 follow up which posed as an evocative and thought provoking record outlining the bands desire to prove they are more than just an indie-funk band. These two albums have led to a heightened fan base and it’s really no surprise that the band have sold out two shows at the Royal Albert Hall in March, a venue normally reserved for bands or artists of such high calibre. What Holy Fire does is simply try to prove this advancement in maturity heard on TLF even more and at first listen it’s very dull and unimaginative; so from their latest album we really learn one thing: the true definition of a ‘grower’, a record that you label as terrible first-off and then find yourself going back to and eventually humming and singing along to every track questioning why you thought those awful, blasphemous thoughts in the first place. For many this is the sign of a truly great album, for others it’s just misfortune as they won’t get to the point of realisation that the record is actually good. Perhaps the weakest thing about HF is Yannis’ vocals; the lyrics totally lack the spark that we heard on TLF – instead of “I’m the ghost in the back of your head” in Spanish Sahara we get a man fretting because someone doesn’t have his mobile number, if its maturity they’re looking for then perhaps they should have re-evaluated some of the lyrics.
In terms of composition the album works. The ‘Prelude’ acts as nothing more than a heavy introduction to ‘Inhaler’ with its teasing guitar riff that stretches out in to a thrashing cacophony of sound with Yannis screaming over the top – just delightful. We then get hit by the vivid and striking‘Inhaler’ which increased anticipation for the album with its release several months ago; it’s a track that gives the band something else to go with, it’s in keeping with their previous sound but also eludes to a heavier, more rocky sound – up until the wholeheartedly shocking scream of “So can you not go awaaaaaaaay!” we deem it a rather typical Foals track, after that point we are left frozen and breathless as if we’ve been struck square in the face. ‘My Number’ acts as a bit of light-relief with it’s poppy riff and regularity, a track typical of the band but it doesn’t really belong with the rest of the album in terms of maturity; it’s lyrics are dreadful and it does seem like a step in the wrong direction. However, the sound that the band are really going for on the album totally comes together with ‘Milk & Black Spiders’ - it simply bleeds with a tenderness that is able to propel the album to the glory they have been working on; the gradual progression from guitar to vocals to drums is superb with each element providing another layer to the track. The heartfelt line that repeats to make up the chorus – “Cause I’ve been around two times and found that you’re the only thing I need” – is steeped in emotional anguish that provides a tie to tracks that made TLF shine, which shows a natural progression from album to album.
There’s absolutely no doubt about it that Holy Fire is a great album, but there are parts of it that perhaps don’t belong, the poppy lyrics on certain tracks being the main offender. From the sound of it Foals will no longer be playing afternoon slots in tents at festivals, they will be reserved for after dark on the main stages as they have proven once again that they can be associated with the big acts. The real saving grace for the album is that almost every song is suited to the live scene, something that is so important to Foals as seeing them play live truly is an experience that you just don’t get with other bands. My closing point is that Holy Fire is an album that threatens greatness but ultimately falls just short of the mark with its moments that simply let it down.
Words: Jordan Wood