Why is it that free stuff is typically never worth it? It seems like everything, especially music, demonstrates this. Any time I find an album that’s free, I figure it’ll be garbage, or at least sub-par to its counterparts. But that’s where Holding Onto Hope breaks the barrier. Their self-titled album, being offered for free by their record label, Come&Live! Records, is actually worth a lot more than what it looks on paper.
Holding Onto Hope is straight-up hardcore, with a bunch of metal elements in their music. Their sound is brash and heavy, while the vocals are easily discernible among the atmospheric tug and pull of the vast guitar riffs. A band that released a great debut EP in 2009 returns even stronger, with a new bassist and vocalist, who both add to the band’s newly established intensity. Holding Onto Hope creates a thick sound, just as bands like Hands and Touche Amore have successfully done. It adds strength and foundation to the great lyrical themes that the band strives to get across.
In songs like “Old Voids” and “Low,” we see Anton Kellner pour his heart out, with meaty lines like “Blind is the one who opens his eyes the most/You I blamed, when I was the host,” all strung out as his raspy screams break evenly with tons of emotion. The message in this album is also a strong point: the band is hopeful yet their themes aren’t too dry. Though there are hints of dark elements (i.e. “The pain is real, it is real!” in the highly captivating “Hollow Vessel”), the overall mood is typically encouraging and positive, as they are a Christian band whose goal is to share “the message of hope and truth to those who are weary.”
The instrumentals fit in to this as well. The guitar is typically slower, along the lines of groups like Hands, as the riffs are cautious and well thought-out. The bass and drums are also solemn, but with a lot of notes you are shaken off the ground by the copious amounts of emotion they possess. With that being said, I wasn’t always carried away by the instrumentals; at times they seem to be a bit boring and anemic, such as in “Forsaken: Take I,” where they seem to be like filler behind Kellner’s ballad-like clean vocals. The slower parts in this album simply aren’t as effective as most hardcore.
The thing that makes me love these guys so much isn’t their sound, which is solid but not outstanding, but the vocals. With what I consider to be an above average effort from the instrumentals, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Kellner’s pipes. He does double duty: singing and screaming. And he’s got a pronounced singing voice. In tracks like “Forsaken: Take Two,” a backdrop of wondrous guitar chords and an earthy, organic feel excellently mesh together with his vocals. This adds even more passion to the songs, as the band is able to mix the cleans and screams for hearty doses of it. The cleans are also really strong in “A Momentum” and “Ourselves,” just to name a few.
The thing that I enjoy most about Holding Onto Hope’s sound, like any hardcore band, is the fact that they have tons of emotion. In this respect, the band succeeds, in addition to the fact that the vocals are pretty strong. Though this album isn’t as groundbreaking as Hands’ Give Me Rest or as brutal as Defeater‘s Empty Days & Sleepless Nights, it is definitely a worthy release. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more from Holding Onto Hope, as their self-titled album will be a nice breakthrough for them, especially considering that it doesn’t cost a cent.