Brilliancy ís quite often defined by taking risks and roads others fear to take. The bravey to constantly push the own perspectives in new directions. When this teams up with natural talent, the result is just priceless. Yannis Philippakis and his band FOALS are such a group that is constantly moving forward and thinks a bit further. For a while now they’ve grown out of the standardized and predictable indie rock scheme and evolved their sound into something very own. A quite catchy concept of math-rock that seems to soak in all possible influences, just like a sponge. It’s about new structures and ideas. Their debut Antidotes came out of nothing with its jumpy tension, the follow-up Total Life Forever explored a even wider soundscape. Probably a bit more settled but with even more ideas.
Three years later FOALS unleash a Holy Fire and we can tell you, it burns hot and fury although it has no intention in going back to the simplistic roots of the group. And once again it looks like Philippakis and his buddies have been influenced by a lot of things. Some examples? Voodoo cults, insect noises, Kambodian music, Southamerican Blues, Krautrock – and we can only speculate what else. Holy Fire feels like the natural continuation of Total Life Forever – just like the predecessor was it to Antidotes. It takes elements and moods from the previous release to create a feeling of familiarity and combines them with new musical territory. In the case of album number three this means that FOALS are getting even more spacier and less definable. The introducing Prelude feels like the warning of impending doom and the things to come. Tension is in the air and the hard rocking Inhaler marks the moment it explodes. Especially these hard alternative rock guitars in combination with Philippakis’ cracking voice mark an interesting new direction for this band. The first single is clearly a surprising track, while the second one – My Number – represents the well-known pop musical aspect of FOALS.
Holy Fire is not as angry as Inhaler might imply. It’s more hypnotic than it’s predecessor. Songs like Bad Habit or the percussive Ouf Of The Woods feel like the band takes us for a flight through psychedelic clouds. Philippakis’ fragile voice marks the constant guiding light in all these trips – especially when he desperately pleads “I’m calling out your name” in the fancy Late Night, a song that starts almost bluesy and dark before it explodes in epicness in the second half. Moments of tender solace like in the almost ambient-like song Stepson meet forcing songs like the wild Providence. Especially this one shows more of the FOALS‘ aggressive side with it’s wild tribal drums and the band constantly shouting “I’m an animal just like you” – almost like summoning the already mentioned voodoo ghosts. The band is not getting loud that often on the new record – but, be sure, whenever they do, it’s the most furious you’ve ever experienced them.
But all in all, Holy Fire, is a record that takes you away from the world, rather than facing it. It’s an ode to escapism in a very seductive way. Especially in the longplayer’s final minutes with the – sort of – morbid lullaby Moon. True beauty or as Philippakis described it in an interview with The Quietus recently: “To me ‘Moon’ is like a film scene, you’re walking and everything is collapsing around you, there are birds falling out of the sky and your teeth are falling out and everything is disintegrating into slurry. At the end there’s a white light and you’re accepting, and it’s beautiful and still.” The beauty of leaving everything behind - FOALS managed once again to pack everything into a coherent record. It might not be such a big step forward as Total Life Forever was, but it actually doesn’t need to. Hopefully the band itself does not vanish into darkness as the album does in the end. Their brilliancy is needed.