Language profoundly influences our perceptions. Fellow Antipodeans please note: Holden the band are not named after our beloved blue-collar chariot. To everyone else, my apologies. On with the review.
This Virginia-based trio are actually named after Judge Holden. Holden was apparently a historical figure from the 19th century American South-West, but is probably better known in fictionalised form, as the depraved antagonist of Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian. The fictional Holden is an educated, erudite polymath, a sadistic killer, and unnervingly ambiguous and otherworldly.
Greater literary minds than mine have debated the merits of the book and the meaning of the character – just bear those qualities in mind as you press play on Ursa Minor.
Opening track After The Fact is an epic statement. It starts ominously, with an unearthly howling guitar line floating over understated bass and drums. It soon gives way to an unhurried doomy groove, then a series of chunky off-kilter assaults of increasing intensity. Each change of riff or heart-pumping injection of double kick drums feels like the band chugging up through the gears. You know they’ve hit top speed when you hear the vocals, at first an atonal shriek, then a desolate melody. There are lurching metallic grooves aplenty, and leads that add viscosity more than melody.
Holden twist conventions and confound expectations, displaying skills as prodigious as their fictional namesake…
Sparks Between Teeth has a more direct feel, launching directly into a catchy bellowed vocal melody and an air-punching thrashy riff. It’s not lacking subtlety or complexity, but the galloping riffs, double-picked and double-kicked, steer the sound ever so slightly away from post-metal arcana, all the while maintaining a crushing density.
However Small, However Hidden is a 15 minute instrumental saga, designed to be the centrepiece of the album. The band begins with a more expansive approach, sitting on a measured tempo and spacious feel for some time before shifting gears. When they do, it’s in favour of a dizzying array of hefty swaggering grooves, with moments of proggy madness. I’m no fan of instrumentals, but there’s so much going on here – every turn demands your attention.
Emperor Of Maladies is the final song proper, and it’s yet another showcase of unorthodox virtuosity. A bluesy doom groove struts alongside unhinged shrieking vocals to play the part of the chorus. An oddly-contoured and catchy melodic chunk forms the verses. The song eventually finds its way to an unexpected amalgam of manic blast beats, thunderous thrashy riffage, and sparse, contemplative passages.
Throughout four fully-realised pieces and the brief The Way It Was And Will Be that’s effectively an outro, Holden twist conventions and confound expectations, displaying skills as prodigious as their fictional namesake. They layer and juxtapose apparently incongruous ideas to create something unique, sinister, and hard-hitting.
Scribed by: Rob Bryant