HolyRoller – Swimming Witches Review

The stoner rock / stoner metal scene is one littered, perhaps more than many sub genres, with tepid mediocrity. One where the utterly forgettable bands seem to massively outnumber both the outstanding and the awe-inspiringly awful acts. While the likes of Clutch, Monster Magnet and Red Fang stand head and shoulders above most in the genre, I have begun to wonder whether there is something intrinsic in the style that leads to so much tediousness. Can North Carolina quartet HolyRoller buck this trend and avoid the apparent pitfalls that trap so many of their baked brethren to deliver something truly interesting with debut Swimming Witches?

Straight out of the gates, my interest is indeed piqued, attention grabbed. Opener “Atheist Prayer” has a real vibrancy to it, as rollicking, rolling riffs pair with energetic drumming and some belting vocals courtesy of rhythm guitarist Adam Cody (at least, as lead vocalist, I assume it’s him although all four members of the band are credited with vocals of some sort). Reminiscent of early Red Fang and The Elephant Riders-era Clutch, with dollops of psychedelia around the edges, it’s a hugely promising start to Swimming Witches. It seems, however, like it might be a tall task for HolyRoller to deliver a full album—even a nice trim one clocking in just over the half hour mark—of this quality.

Sadly, so it proves. That’s not to say that HolyRoller immediately dives off a cliff, but it feels like they go too hard, too early and, just like my 19-year old self at a uni party, are then struggling to maintain the energy.1 The gritty urgency of the lead vocals on “Atheist Prayer” is what makes that song such a banger but they are never to return on Swimming Witches. Instead, the tempo drops a bit and the band leans that little bit harder into psych tropes. Distorted leads and semi-spoken vocal passages (“Last Embrace”) become more common, as do tired-sounding repetitive riffs and grunted or chanted backing vocals (“The Deuce”). There are brief sparks of life, like the very good “Earthdweller” with its harsher vocals and twanging bass, but I’m sorry to say that Swimming Witches saved its best for first. Thereafter, the record lacks edge and, to a degree, ideas.

It’s a shame that the album’s two standout cuts—”Atheist Prayer” and “Earthdweller”—are tracks 1 and 3 because Swimming Witches feels like a slog after you’ve had those two, even though you’ve only got about another 20 minutes to go. HolyRoller can all handle their instruments and kudos goes to drummer Jay Ovittore for his desperate, if ultimately futile, attempt to instill some interest and progressive flare into the turgid “With Time.” The title track, which closes Swimming Witches, is a solid way to finish, its progressive leads and grimy bass pairing well with the vocals, which briefly rediscover an urgent, yearning edge. Coupled with the two early picks, this shows that the band can pen very good tracks but not consistently. Not yet anyway. The production does not help HolyRoller, Despite a DR of 8, Swimming Witches feels too loud and flat, making it a tiring experience for these old ears. The vocals, which are often leads plus backing chants or call/response work, are too far forward in the mix, dominating the instruments, while the drums sound somehow slightly out of focus, with the cymbals in particular a bit ragged around the edges.

Swimming Witches opens in such strong fashion that I really wanted to love it. Or even like it. As it is, however, I like elements of it and think that HolyRoller have a lot of promise but the overall package is a bit tedious. Frustratingly so because of what the band shows itself capable of. I am willing to be patient, however. It seems HolyRoller has only been around for three years and few bands knock it out the park on the debut. This quartet clearly have talent and I hope, for their sophomore effort, will lean a bit more into the big, rolling intensity of “Atheist Prayer” and the harsher edge of “Earthdweller.”

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Black Doomba Records
Websites: holyroller2.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/profile.php?id=100047348095331
Releases Worldwide: July 8th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Lightweight! – Steel
« »