In an effort to expand my horizons, suppress my average scores, and prevent this blog from becoming a black- and power-metal only publication, I’ve decided to spend more of 2018 with the dregs of the promo bin; bands no one likes, no one has heard of, or no one has the courage to approach given their genre tag. With the questionable name of Holophonics and the even more questionable tag of “Alt Metal,” I feared that Fast Forward was a product from the center of that Venn diagram. I pined for the days when the promo bin overflowed with Unique Leader releases and I wouldn’t have to subject myself to this weak and commercial corner of the metal universe. And yet…
This band can fucking groove. I’m talking near-Sci-Fi Crimes–Chevelle levels of groove here; thick, aggressive, but often understated, paired with emotive vocals and explosive drumming straight out of the last third of a Truckfighters song. “Last Breathing” combines the drama of a late-era Truckfighters epic with a bluesy hard rock intensity, culminating in a shred solo and an even more aggressive take on the opening riff. Following up is an A-side that slides by without fault. Holophonics manage to make alt metal dramatic and engaging without resorting to the angsty nu-metal tropes that hamstrung a generation of rock bands. Even the near pop-punk of “The Call” works here, helped along by its subtly mathy main riff.
The mid-album stretch of Fast Forward slumps slightly, but never enough to heed its titular advice. “In the Wild” is worth listening to for its bass-led bridge, but “Cluster A” tends to drag; though it pulls off a nice soft/loud structure, neither segment is really very interesting. It’s worth noting, too, that part of the charm that keeps Fast Forward on my good side is the lovable French delivery of singer Steph Picot, and I’d probably like this band a lot less with an American-sounding singer. After listening to so much Truckfighters, heavy rock/metal amalgams like this just sound weird without a European accent at the front.
Towards the end, Fast Forward returns to form with “Blowing the Embers” and “As You Well Know,” a pair of closing songs that re-state everything that made the first few cuts in the album such a welcome surprise. Picot even throws a few screams into the last minute of the album, backed by some of the most raucous music the band has to offer. This cleaves the end of the album cleanly, bringing about a clear end to a release that’s only a tad too long.
Fast Forward strays a bit closer to mainstream rock in its production than I would like, sounding just a tad more polished than Chevelle circa Vena Sera. It’s thoroughly modern and highlights the band well, playing steady support to Steph Picot’s vocals, which only once strain farther than forceful singing. A rougher delivery all around — scratchier guitars, more intense vocals, snappier drums – would certainly endear this album to me, but really that’s just because I am a sucker for Chevelle1. A bit more fuzz or distortion would surely add to the character of Fast Forward, though, and the radio-friendly cleanliness is the biggest strike against the album, noticeably draining some of the biggest moments of just a bit of danger.
How to rate Holophonics, a band with a name that I now only somewhat regret shitting on? Despite being the arbiter of brutality and generally ambivalent towards the more radio-friendly of musics, I still maintain a hierarchy within bands that straddle the metal/rock line successfully. So are Holophonics as good as Fair to Midland or Hurt2? No. Nothing will ever be that good again. Are they as good as Chevelle and Truckfighters? Well… not quite, but the band only miss the mark by a small margin. With a bit more grit, these Frenchmen could really pack a wallop, but as it is, the songwriting and performances are all there. Fast Forward might not put its makers in the pantheon, but it’s a damn good piece of rock/metal that’s tough not to enjoy.