Album review: Holding Absence – The Noble Art Of Self Destruction
Welsh post-hardcore heroes Holding Absence astound on epic third LP, The Noble Art Of Self Destruction…
“Holding Absence isn’t a sad band – that’s something I want to make clear from the outset.” Lucas Woodland is all too aware of the perceptions that form when your band is adorned with such labels as “emo newcomers” and “the next My Chemical Romance”. Those descriptions are no bad thing, of course, but when they’re combined with a debut album centred around the concepts of love and heartbreak, featuring songs with titles such as Your Love (Has Ruined My Life), it’s all too easy for the uninitiated to write you off as a bunch of angsty young men yet to properly grow up.
But that’s now what Holding Absence are about. Since forming in Cardiff in 2015, the four-piece – vocalist Lucas, guitarist Scott Carey, bassist Ben Elliott and drummer Ash Green – have been honing a sound that blends crunching post-hardcore with the flamboyance of emo and the melodic sensibilities of alt.rock. Their 2019 self-titled debut arrived to plenty of fanfare, this writer stating in a highly positive review for Kerrang! that the record was “a brilliantly told tale of love and life, and a superb example of how to stretch the limits of what post-hardcore can achieve.”
The promise was there for all to see, but to take the next step, album two needed to see Holding Absence smooth the disjointed edges in order to present themselves as a rock band with a genuine ambition of breaking out of the UK’s underground. And that’s exactly what The Greatest Mistake Of My Life, released next month, is: a more streamlined, accessible version of Holding Absence, and a bold statement from a band with a desire to be something special to everyone who hears them.
“The goal for me has always been for this band to be one where young girls can come to a show and mosh, crowdsurf and have a great time, but also one that middle-aged men can be moved by,” Lucas begins. “Something I’ve learned with this album is that we don’t write sad music; we write emotional music, whatever that sounds like. I’m trying to convey the fact that no-one should live their life without coming to grips with the way that they feel. I don’t think you can stereotype ‘emotion’ – everybody feels everything, and I think it’s important to embrace that. I like the idea of people young and old, regardless of their gender or identity, feeling every type of emotion, whether that’s sweating in a pit or crying alone in their bedroom. That’s what this band is about.”
Lucas speaks like a man with the foresight and eloquence to convey that message to the masses, but despite his determination for Holding Absence to succeed, it’s been far from plain sailing over the past few years. Line-up issues have consistently niggled away in the background, with Lucas and Ash the only founding members who remain. Guitarist Feisal El-Khazragi left in the middle of recording Holding Absence’s first album to link-up with their friends in Liverpool metal outfit and K! cover stars Loathe, while bassist James Joseph – who performs on the entirety of The Greatest Mistake Of My Life – recently quit to focus on his own music.
Moreover, the campaign for the band’s debut LP was rocked by the denial of visas by the U.S. authorities, preventing a much-hyped American tour from taking place. It was an experience Lucas describes as a monumental blow to all in the Holding Absence camp, and a depressing episode that somewhat informed the writing of their new record. Plus, there was the small matter of a global pandemic standing in their way.
The line-up issue, at least, is now settled. Ben Elliott, an old friend of the band, has slotted in seamlessly on bass, while Lucas is full of praise when it comes to contributions of his fellow band members, describing drummer Ash as “the hardest-hitting, most emotional drummer I know,” and crediting guitarist Scott’s songwriting ability as a key reason why The Greatest Mistake Of My Life “completely dwarfs” the band’s first record.
“When this band started, we had such a hunger and ambition to make it the biggest band ever, but there’s no denying that goal has been stunted by those line-up struggles, the American visa issues and now a pandemic," Lucas admits. "I know everybody is going through the latter, but when it happened, it just felt like yet another significant blow to us. I believe we’re going to come through all of those things soon, though, because with The Greatest Mistake Of My Life, we’re armed with the best music we’ve ever written. The ambition in the band has never been better, as far as I’m concerned.”
Holding Absence’s aspirations are grand, but for Lucas – a softly-spoken, naturally unassuming individual who doesn’t crave the limelight – it’s taken more than a positive album cycle to convince him he’s capable of going above and beyond expectation. The conviction and assertiveness with which he’s approached The Greatest Mistake Of My Life has, quite literally, been a lifetime in the making…
Lucas Woodland grew up in the small town of Pontypridd in Wales, which lies roughly 12 miles north of the nation’s capital and musical hub, Cardiff. A mining village he describes as “a small echo chamber” best known for birthing pop legend Tom Jones, it was a place that at times, Lucas admits, left him feeling lost and reliant on music and his family to get him through.
“All I had there was my family and the things they talked to me about, and music was always a topic of conversation,” he says. “It was something I was doomed to fall in love with, I guess.”
A very family-oriented person – “Everything I do, I do to make my family proud” – Lucas leaned heavily on his parents’ love of music from a young age. One of his earliest memories is being three years old, dressed in a Prodigy T-shirt with his hair spiked to mimic the late, great Keith Flint, with that early love of rock developing fully during his teenage years. Discovering Green Day’s American Idiot changed everything for him, particularly the song Jesus Of Suburbia, which he describes as “an eight-minute-long operatic masterpiece, and the perfect introduction to rock music”.
“The thing I’ve always loved about rock,” he continues, “is how uncompromising it is and how selfish it can be. Writing a seven-, eight- or nine-minute-long epic is something you do for the love of music, and I really gravitated towards that.”
My Chemical Romance enhanced his growing love of alternative music further still. Lucas – whose arm now bears a tattoo of the iconic Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge artwork – has taken inspiration from MCR frontman Gerard Way throughout his life, describing him, David Bowie and The Cure vocalist Robert Smith as “the three people I really relate to, because I feel like the world never really understood them without music”.
“I find that inspiring to me because once I get offstage, I’m a normal, loser guy,” Lucas says. “I’m no cooler than anybody else, but it’s about having the audacity to believe that you’re cool for half-an-hour a night. People like Bowie and Gerard Way are frontpeople who I feel play a character onstage, and I might not be quite as theatrical in the character that I play, but that confident, strong man just isn’t who I am six days a week.”
Lucas openly admits to being a very emotional person. He sees his traits as an empath and a mediator among his biggest strengths, along with his ability to get along with anyone. Concurrently, though, he considers himself someone who’s “never had larger than life qualities”. Like the vocalists who inspired him so much in his youth, Lucas isn’t imbued with confidence and machismo, but it’s those insecurities that allow him to relate to others so well through his music.
“I’ve been through a lot of internal struggle,” he admits. “But I use that to write about things I believe in. I get a kick out of people being able to relate to me and helping them with the things they’re going through. It’s important to be open about the way you’ve felt in life, and in doing so, show people how you’ve overcome those things. Holding Absence is me wearing all of that on my sleeve.”
Put it to Lucas that his openness when it comes to his emotions and mental wellbeing position him – like Gerard, Bowie, Robert Smith and more contemporary frontmen like Creeper’s Will Gould – as the antithesis to toxic masculinity, he’s in total agreement. In fact, it’s something he cares very strongly about.
“We live in a world that’s more open with regards to people coming to terms with their gender and sexuality than ever before,” he says. “I’m so proud to be part of that generation, and I can’t wait for the next generation that will be even more in tune with that. Personally, I’ve always been very comfortable with myself on a gender and sexuality level, but I’ve never felt like the archetypal ‘man’. Being at peace with your emotions is something that hasn’t been perceived as manly for a very long time. Toxic masculinity is more damning than it gets credit for; those attitudes are stopping men from getting to grips with their mental health issues, and it’s seeing them sacrifice relationships in life. I feel fortunate to have never fallen afoul of being a ‘bloke’, because I think that’s the most boring, stupid thing.
“It comes back to this idea of empathy,” he continues. “With Holding Absence, I’m not telling anybody how to feel, I’m just saying that this is music that can be felt, and I hope that those listening will embrace that feeling, and find something to connect with inside of it.”
Feeling something, anything or, better yet, everything has long been the purpose of Holding Absence. Taking an empathetic, honest and considered view of the world is something Lucas has been doing his whole life – but in order to push Holding Absence to the next level, he needed to consider experiences and outlooks beyond his own. And as luck would have it, a chance happening on an old family treasure provided the impetus Lucas needed to set to work on a record that tackles the biggest subject of all: life itself.
The origins of The Greatest Mistake Of My Life lie in Lucas Woodland’s childhood. Notably, the title for Holding Absence’s second album existed before the vast majority of the music. It came from Lucas’ grandmother, who introduced him to a cover version recorded by his uncle of the song The Greatest Mistake Of My Life, which was originally released by singer Dame Gracie Fields during the 1950s. The title of the song and the feelings it conjured up – hindsight and regret, love and loss – struck a chord with the frontman, who instantly felt that everything he was hearing was destined to become a part of Holding Absence.
The phrase soon became a blueprint for everything that followed. Each song on Holding Absence’s new album speaks in some way to those words, coming together to form a record that encourages the listener to embrace their emotions, happy or sad, and live life to the fullest.
“This album sums up the whole point of Holding Absence, which is to accept emotion, beautiful or ugly, whatever it may be, because that’s the joy of being human,” Lucas explains. “When the song The Greatest Mistake Of My Life dripped its way down through my family tree to me, and the lyrics sounded like something I would’ve written, it just had to be the title and the thing that informed the next chapter of our band.”
Such is the extent to which Lucas believes in the words of The Greatest Mistake Of My Life, he, like his uncle before him, covers the original song when closing out Holding Absence’s new album. Before it come 11 tracks of cinematic rock that speak of life in its rawest form. True to his words about Holding Absence not being a sad band, lead single Beyond Belief is a euphoric, Robert Smith-inspired celebration of throwing caution to the wind in the name of love. On the flip-side, the rapturous Die Alone (In Your Lover’s Arms) speaks to the deathbed regret of a life lived in an unfulfilling relationship. The brooding In Circles, meanwhile, recalls Lucas’ experiences of small-town monotony.
The Greatest Mistake Of My Life is an ode to the human experience, and all the loves, losses, trials and traumas we’re faced with. It’s a record, too, that deserves to catapult Holding Absence out of the underground and into the ears of audiences far and wide. Everyone who hears it should, in some way, be able to relate to the feelings Lucas and his bandmates exude across the songs.
“Over the last decade of my life I’ve felt so many things, and I always try and channel those emotions through our music,” Lucas outlines. “This album starts with the lyric ‘I’m alive,’ and that’s something I find really poignant, because the broader message of the record is, ‘You’re living, you’re breathing, and if you’re like me, maybe you didn’t think you would have made it this far and be alive today.’ That’s something to be proud of.
“Those themes speak to the version of myself that lies awake at night thinking about everything I’ve ever done wrong in my life,” he continues. “It’s funny that I’ve written a very existential album, because like many people, I spend hours with my eyes closed, trying to fall asleep, going over the things I regret and contemplating what it all means.
“This album is a mission statement about celebrating life, and life in spite of death. It’s the goodness, regardless of all the bad; the small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of the chasm of darkness that surrounds you.”
Holding Absence’s The Greatest Mistake Of My Life is released April 16 via SharpTone Records. Pre-order/pre-save your copy now.
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Welsh post-hardcore heroes Holding Absence astound on epic third LP, The Noble Art Of Self Destruction…
The Cover Story
Ahead of Holding Absence’s new album, Lucas Woodland is in the midst of a revelation. Using music to confront his perceived weaknesses, we meet the “very emotional person” on a journey of self-discovery, digging deeper than ever before, finding a new beauty in life and the confidence to be the person he believes he can be…
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