Holy Coves: Druids And Bards
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After a hiatus, Holy Coves have released their 3rd album, Druids and Bards, on their own Yr Wyddfa Records.
The Welsh indie psych-rock band from Holy Island, Anglesey, lead by singer/songwriter Scott Marsden are back. Druids and Bards follows Ynys Mon and Peruvian Mistake after a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager. As well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians; John Lawrence on guitar, Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths, Jason Hughes on bass and Spike T Smith on drums.
The first in a trilogy, it’s a very different-sounding album from the off, starting strongly with three previously released singles. Away We Go is lighter and dare I say ‘poppier’ than anything than those first couple of albums. An uplifting beginning to an album which explores a number of styles throughout. It sets the tone for the album, packed with vocal emotion which sees the frontman letting loose, maybe shaking off the past.
This is followed by The Hurt Within. I can’t help but be reminded of Bryan Adam’s 80’s smash Run To You with its opening guitar lines and moody vocals. Don’t let that put you off though. Musically, it builds slowly and surely into a soul-stirring heartbreaker. Like the opening track, Grey is another uptempo number, which Marsden calls, “a killer pop song enhanced by Holy Coves’ distinct sound, and coupled with a hazy indie pop filter and flourishes of post-punk”. The oldest song on the album, it’s “about stepping out of the darkness and into the light”.
Small And Nothing has the sound of a classic, early 70’s riff-driven rocker (The Faces?) with the vocals sitting slightly lower in the mix, occasionally being overpowered by guitars. It’s a great tune to blast out loud with gritty and dirty lead parts. Another Day follows, and has a similar feel to The Hurt Within (but no Bryan Adams this time). Another slow burner dealing with Marsden’s addiction and his battle to overcome this. I’m perhaps underselling it when I say that he has. Having spoken to him there is an energy, enthusiasm and drive to him. As well as setting up Yr Wyddfa Records, he’s actively looking to support and encourage young musicians. Maybe only after having so much darkness can there really be so much light.
Desert Storm was the second track to be released from the album earlier in the year. The track opens and honestly details the struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from severe drug addiction. Musically, it’s another brooding stomper with psychedelic synths. It’s got a slightly otherworldly quality to it, as if in a slight drug-fuelled haze.
After a couple of heavier tracks, the lighter Welcome to the Real World comes next ahead of the catchy Until I Fall with its uplifting chiming guitar. These tracks almost act as pallet cleansers for the final track, the epic 7-minute plus Taste The Wine. As with all of the album, it’s personal, this time reminding the listener to move on, let go of the past and enjoy the present, to live in the moment. Despite its epic length, you’ll lose yourself in multilayered guitars that provide the sonic soundscape to end on.
Druids And Bards is a powerful album which deserves your time and attention. If there is any justice it will be up there in the next couple of months in the end-of-year ‘Best Of’ lists. Unfortunately, the current UK Tour had to be curtailed due to injury, but the band will be playing live in 2023. I for one am looking forward to hearing this record played live.
Scott Marsden will be on my Indie Brunch on Louder Than War Radio on 22nd October from 11am. Tune in here or Android/iOS
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All words by Iain Key. See his author profile here or see him on Twitter as @iainkey