From what they’d released pre-album, at least momentarily, Foals sounded like they’d grown into stallions. ‘Inhaler’ showed us a new side to the band, with ‘shouty Yannis’ being a welcome addition to the diminutive frontman’s ever growing list of talents. Rather odd ‘Prelude’ aside, which sounds like an action film soundtrack being played over a recorded band practice, the album starts strongly. The aforementioned ‘Inhaler’ is a gutsy opener, but, rather than being the catalyst for a new tougher direction, folds into the most regressive track on the album; obvious single ‘My Number’ is a radio friendly hark back to the days of Foals old.
The first five tracks run past in a Foals-by-numbers fashion. After ‘Bad Habit’ and ‘Everytime’ it’s clear a new precedent has been set, with heavier instrumentals, big hooks and breathy choruses seeming to be Foals’ ‘new’ sound, but even though it’s a bit different, it kind of feels like they’ve done it all before. Indeed, the similarities with previous release Total Life Forever continue when Holy Fire’s first moody track ‘Late Night’ fulfils the role that ‘Spanish Sahara’ did on TLF. ‘Late Night’ doesn’t reach the heights that its predecessor did though, and features the worst guitar solo I think I’ve ever heard. ‘Out of the Woods’ passes without much incident, and again, although it’s a perfectly pleasant song, it’s really nothing ground-breaking, which is starting to feel like a huge shame.
Thankfully, Holy Fire picks up from herein. ‘Milk and Black Spiders’ is the culmination of the prevailing themes of the album so far. Yannis’ voice gets a bit of the old reverb treatment, there’s plenty of traditional Foals skittish guitar work, and a huge chorus complete with epic drum-clap and synth drone accompaniment heralds one of my favourite moments on the record. Chorus lyric “I’ve been around two times and found that you’re the only thing I need” is oddly telling; whilst Foals don’t provide the only thing I need musically, their previous two albums and most of Holy Fire reminds you that they’re actually a great British export, and certainly one to take the time to appreciate.
The producer racks things up on ‘Providence’, and Foals’ claim that they’re “an animal just like you” brings a more fierce approach. Replete with a beefier riff, rasping screams, thrashy bits and a bloody lovely, balls-to-the-wall heavy breakdown at the end, ‘Providence’ will break some indie kids in half if they don’t see it coming at Foals’ forthcoming live shows. Closing couplet ‘Stepson’ and other Spanish-Sahara-esque cut ‘Moon’ lapse a little, again sounding like they could have been on Total Life Forever, but by this point the slide back into melancholy is a welcome one, and they round the album off in a pleasantly contemplative manner.
Overall, despite seeming a little lacklustre at times, Holy Fire has enough impressive tracks on it to prevent it from being the disappointment first feared. Total Life Forever also had a few duds that felt a bit incongruous with the album’s general aesthetic, and I thought Foals would have ironed out that discrepancy with this record, but it’s not that major a gripe. Holy Fire will probably be a bit of a slow burner for those expecting an album of ‘Inhaler’s, but it certainly has enough hidden charm to warrant the multiple listens it might need.
Holy Fire is released February 11th via Warner Bros/Transgressive.
Dance Yrself Clean