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Album Review: HOLYNAME HolyName

7.5 Reviewer

Five years after Sleeping Giant called it quits (leaving a solid legacy on Inland Empire hardcore), HolyName finds vocalist and songwriter Tommy Green returning to heavy music with a deeply personal, profoundly spiritual project. Where some folks from the Christian-core boom of the 2010s forsook the faith, the music or both, Green's latest endeavour is the sound of a man grappling with hardship by embracing the deeper roots of his worldview. His embrace of Eastern Orthodoxy and his desire to channel his theological journey into music evolved from an acoustic "mixtape" to a strange cross-section of heavy music arranged by Joe Holt and, well, church music. Call it "Holy Drone," call it "Violent Worship"—but HolyName represents some of the most inspired music from the Facedown Records roster.

The opening track and lead single "Meet Me Somewhere" does retain its roots in more "friendly" music, to a point where it's not advisable to approach this music like Sleeping Giant. The track does end with a gnarly-ass breakdown, and a punchy rhythm section to drive muscular distortion, but Green's chord progressions and vocal melodies remain soothing and dynamic. The added reverb and lower mixing of his voice almost sounds like he recorded in a cathedral, which adds to the processional atmosphere of the second single "Fall On Your Knees." Where the former features a soaring chorus (don't blow out your voice, Tommy), the latter's 8-and-a-half minutes lean into post-rock-ish ambience. It feels more like a rite of passage into the spirit realm, before Brook Reeves of deathcore titans Impending Doom breaks the trance with his signature gutturals.

Only two tracks in, and HolyName makes their intention crystal clear. This is not a "Christian, but edgy" vibe. A song like "Creed" isn't trying to be anything other than what it is. The lyrics are literally "I believe in God… I believe in Jesus… I believe in the Holy Spirit." Actually, the lyrics are pretty much the Eastern Orthodox statement of faith verbatim put to music. In this comes a refreshing internal resonance, rather than aggressive proselytising. From the liturgical choral harmonies (provided by the aptly-titled "Rev Gang Choir") to the old-school Facedown-core mosh part (topped off by Green's ex-xDeathstarx bandmate Eric Gregson), HolyName favors an aura of fervent spiritual expression.

The "acoustic-turned-heavy" paradigm fades with deeper cuts like "The Sect," which seems more like they were specifically written for HolyName. This is where the artistic validity of Green and Holt's work begins to stand out. Beyond the spirited growls from Demon Hunter's Ryan Clark, "The Sect" comes through with some infectious syncopated chugs, surging blast beats and pronounced riff work. With Green's haunting singing added to the mix, the music likens itself to the Deftones-core of Sleep Token and Loathe. In fact, Green's decision to only sing on the record, leaving guests to take on the harsh vocals, allows the more straightforward deathcore track "They See" to maintain a unique atmosphere. Where Mike Felker of fellow aggressive worshipers Convictions roars the wrath of God amid detuned beatdowns, Green offers solace amid a nasty, groovy down section.

"Open Skies" comes as the first of three instances of electronic beat music produced by Hunter Babcock of South Dakota metalcore upstarts Wolf Skin. It's a shame that it only lasts a minute, as the theme of a supernatural encounter during a mugging would've made for quite the dark-trap song. The same goes for "Follower," which functions only as a brief ambient palate cleanser. Luckily, there's more to report about "Mr. Millstone," as it incorporates metal instrumentation into its production, along with layers of Reeves' menacing snarls a la his own trap metal project Man Ov God (along with his signature anti religious corruption mantra). It sounds natural enough to want for more of that sonic vein in the meat of the album.

Speaking of production, the soundscapes at play during less punishing songs do a lot for the immersiveness of these metallic sacraments. Neither "Perpetua" or "My Way" have any harsh vocals, allowing Green's unique approach to singing to drive the song through its riff changes. He builds the tension with mystical melodies, so Holt can gun the throttle for maximum impact. In both cuts, the duo shows that their songwriting can stand on its own without help from any guests. Green's chops have clearly evolved over the past half-decade, with more to say than simply "I'm angry, but I also love Jesus" and more reverent explorations of first century martyrs and introspective enlightenment.

But still, the guests remain consistently compelling. "Celestial" finds Green layering over the raw barks of Joe Advent (a bit of a Christian-core legend for his involvement with Beloved and Advent). This helps the song break the good-cop-bad-cop vocal structure, as Holt flexes more of his evolving rhythmic patterns and bottom-heavy beatdowns. Green and Danon Saylor (Nothing Left) similarly bounce off each other on "St. Dismas." This closing track weaves some of the album's most tasty vocal phrasing into an artful use of the thief on the cross story (the one who doesn't get his eyes pecked out by a raven in The Passion of the Christ). The album closes with a final affirmation of Green's longing for renewal, which he found not by yelling at those he disagrees with, but by unearthing a deeper understanding of why he chose to follow God in the first place.

It's easy to see HolyName as a band by Christians for Christians, because that's not necessarily wrong. 50 minutes of Tommy Green writing a love letter to Eastern Orthodoxy might turn off the agnostics or atheist fans of ‘core music, not to mention the abundance of singer-songwriter melodies. But the greater picture of this album has something unique to offer heavy music. Especially in the singing department, heavy music hasn't been done this way before—and the duo's passion is hard to ignore. Rest assured, those with any nostalgia for the Christian-core boom will find a lot to appreciate here.

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