Holy Fawn – Death Is A Relief

Few bands have seen the absolute explosion that Holy Fawn has. Their second album, Death Spells, saw very little attention for the first year after its release, but in the time since, they’ve found themselves thrust into tours with Caspian, Thrice, and Deafheaven. To call a band’s rise meteoric is usually played out, but Holy Fawn fits the bill. And rightly so: Death Spells captured the essence of heavy yet gorgeous music with Platonic clarity. The band even describes their music as “Loud pretty heavy noises,” which is as concise as accurate a bio as any band has ever written.

It’s been four years since Death Spells, and despite releasing an EP and a couple remixes and covers, the thirst for more Holy Fawn music is almost debilitating. The new single, “Death is a Relief,” quenches that ache, and—hopefully—promises more.

Holy Fawn’s music has always been lush: layers of guitars are augmented with glimmers of synthesizers and electronics. But even the richest tracks on Death Spells sound practically sparse to the dense soundscape of “Death is a Relief.” Warped piano and a drum machine open the song before being joined by multitracked clean guitars, real drums, and delicate vocal coos. The instruments pull back on the verse, leaving room for vocalist Ryan Osterman to practically whisper ruminations to a lover about their inevitable deaths. “Come and light the fire from every end / When our hands look old, when we smile at death…Will you still see me?”

Then, an explosion. A wall of distorted guitars crashes down while Osterman’s voice soars in the upper air of its range, almost stubbornly refusing to join in the dynamic increase.

The song returns to the verse, now aided by dark synths and chiming guitar loops. But when you sense a return to the chorus, it pauses. Ambient swells and a quiet drumbeat carry the space like a sigh. When the burst of the chorus does come, the clean vocals are accompanied by an almost black metal shriek. The wall of sound is somehow even louder and more devastating. But even at its harshest volumes, it doesn’t quite sound aggressive. There’s a comfort in the calamity—which is a big part of what Holy Fawn does better than anyone else.

It finally subsides with the strums of an acoustic guitar twisted to the edge of recognition while distant vocals haunt the empty space where the crushing heaviness just was.

I don’t envy Holy Fawn for the task of following up Death Spells. It’s as close to a perfect record as I’ve heard in the last several years. But “Death is a Relief” somehow manages to blow past its sky-high expectations. And judging by the logo for vinyl-only label Wax Bodega at the end of the music video, it bodes for more new music on the horizon.

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