I absolutely love it when an album releases at the end of the year and makes me redo some of my year-end lists. I hadn’t heard about the debut from Hollingshead until the day it released, which was a little odd, but “Stay Dead” has turned out to be a great addition to this already fantastic year of music. The album released on December 4th (outside the US), and I’m loving it.
Hollingshead isn’t a supergroup, per se, but it has some recognizable names. The band consists of Carl Westholm (Carptree, Jupiter Society) on keys, Johan Niemann (Evergrey, Therion, Mind’s Eye) on bass, Fredrik Haake on drums, and Gidon Tannenbaum on vocals. Notice, if you will, that there is no guitar player. That is a major part of what defines this band. You will also hear Cia Backman on backing vocals.
Hollingshead is an immaculate creation. The band is dark—really dark—with throbbing bass and haunting Hammond organ taking the lead. The music is all about monstrous bass lines (sometimes resembling towering riffs) played right up against a streaming, eerie organ sound. It ends up feeling Gothic, and yet so very progressive. There is definite influence from 70s prog rock here, but also the dark metal of the Swedish community. Of course, Carl’s own shadowy bands show up in the mix, too, offering slightly quirky, macabre, and otherworldly auras. The results are beautiful in an unsettling, apprehensive sort of way. I love that.
Carl sounds fantastic on keys. His ethereal, under-worldly keyboard lines create such a flow of consciousness that you feel like you are there, in a dark place, experiencing the horrors being described. Honestly, I don’t know what the lyrics are about at all, but they are certainly morbid and Gothic in their telling. The Hammond, especially, adds a sense of murky mysticism to the whole thing. And with Johan’s driving, unrelenting bass and Fredrik’s thundering drums in the mix, you can feel yourself slipping away into another place.
I have to mention Gidon’s vocals, too. He is, shall I say, an unorthodox performer. He is known for stoner and doom bands in Sweden, and his gifts are apparent on first listen. However, I should say that he isn’t for everyone. His gravelly voice rips and peels with urgency and chilling precision, often choosing to use notes that feel icy and unique. I could definitely understand why someone would be terrified of him, but I find myself mesmerized by his performance.
“Stay Dead” feels like a ghost story, less gory and more ghastly. The band really didn’t release any singles or anything, so I went into the album having no idea what to expect. When I heard “And While Waiting for the Sky to Open”, the opener, I was so impressed with the layered, impending sound. That song is both distressing and groovy. The last half has some of the smoothest grooves of the year, even.
The rest of the album is similar. “Lights”, for example, has moments that feel like a pure blackened river of emotion. The title track, though, is a slow burn with moments of energy that peak like a ravenous shark surfacing in the ocean. “The Traveler’s Prayer”, the closer, has a cleaner, more hopeful ending with lush keys and the signature Carptree oddity. The album, then, ends on a fantastic note. All of the songs, however, are excellent.
My favorite song on the album is “The Valley”, and it has quickly become a favorite song this year. I get goosebumps thinking about it, actually. The song starts out much like the rest of the album, but soon transitions into an urgent, repetitive chorus that builds in intensity, adding Cia’s wonderful voice to the mix. It’s easy to get lost in that part because it sounds so amazing and so haunting. Yet, the song transitions yet again, this time into a fantastic groove built on an absolutely monster bass line from Johan that feels like one of the biggest riffs ever. It feels so pure and so inspired, to say the least. Trading blasts from the bass and poignant keyboard lines, back and forth, the song gives us a stunning contrast that builds to an epic conclusion. Damn, I love this song.
The album as a whole feels that way. “Stay Dead” is a satisfying, immense surprise at the end of this year. The band may feature sounds and influences that feel familiar, but they combine those inspirations into something fresh, new, and arresting. This album only continues to grow on me and every time I listen it feels exciting.
Find Hollingshead online: