Holy Popes - Self-Titled (Man Demolish Records) 2

Holy Popes – Self-Titled (Man Demolish Records)

Bristol-based three-piece Holy Popes are a band who know how to make a first impression. Take, for example, their presser for debut single, ‘DBT’:

“Promoting ideas of climbing the social ladder through objects and wealth means people can no longer wait for the next car or phone, they have to borrow to obtain it today. This capitalist trick has us blame each other for our ills, and distracts us from the billions that are accrued by the very few, leaving behind them a trail of poor bodies, environmental destruction and social instability. Debt is slavery. Capitalism is organised crime.”

Quite the opening gambit. Unsurprisingly, with their debut album, we find that they have a fierce and uncompromising sound to back up their strong opinions.

Vocalist Dominic Knight previously had a stint as guitarist in The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, objectively one of the best British bands of this millennium to far, and the psychobilly-inspired sound of his previous band is prevalent in this record. Where TEMBLD were often quirky and off-the-wall in their subject matter, though, Holy Popes are very much focused on discussing social issues and railing against the establishment.

Holy Popes album cover

The other key element of this band’s sound is Jake Beckett’s heavy post-punk bass, and we get a full introduction to this piece on second track ‘Seance’. Combined with Luke Bujniewicz’s pistol-shot drumming, this track brings to mind Girls In Synthesis, raw and dark. Start as you mean to go on.

This is followed by ‘Pencils’, a track about how patriarchal masculinity is responsible for driving toxic behaviour in relationships. Knight says of the track that “by rejecting patriarchal masculinity, we can not only help to end misogyny and sexism, but also provide kindness and compassion to ourselves and the men around us.” Probably the most immediate track on the album, its staccato jerkiness really grabs the attention.

By this point, you’ll be pretty clear on what you’re getting here. The basslines are relentless and the guitar is raw, but the real driver here is Knight’s powerfully expressive vocals, angry and doomy. It’s not going to deviate too much from here on out, but you’ll be hooked enough that you won’t want it to.

The record keeps up its pace impressively. ‘Better 4 U’ is reminiscent of The Misfits, and ‘Skin of an Ape’ has a Drive Like Jehu feel to it. The quality of the songwriting remans high throughout, and for all the high-end racket going on around it, it retains a level of stoicism, conscious of not losing the impact of the words.

A case in point is recent single ‘Jerry’, which builds a fabulous bassline around a repeated vocal of “my friend Jerry is an honest man, with a big old heart but not much upstairs, he read up on a daily rag, he found a little bit of hate in a worn-out flag.” Simple, but makes its point very effectively. We all know a Jerry.

The band really save the best for last, though, with supreme closer ‘Slither’. This song has just a little more freedom to it, with a groovy guitar line and a ferocious, feedback-laden breakdown section.

If the album has one weakness, it would probably be that it could use a few more moments like this, where it lets loose a little more. At times, it feels like it’s a little too constrained by its own formula, reluctant to embrace a little more chaos that might elevate it even further.

This is a minor quibble, though. Overall, this is a hugely impressive debut album. There is no weak track, it is raw and exciting, and good fun too in spite of the serious subject matter. Plus, for anyone who ever saw Eighties Matchbox in concert, you just know that this is going to be amazing live.

Holy Popes is released on Man Demolish Records on Friday 27th January 2023. The band play a record release show at the Golden Lion in Bristol on the same night. If you are in the Bristol area, definitely worth a look.

Holy Popes – Self-Titled (Man Demolish Records)

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