The music industry is stratified. At the top you get the arena gods who headline tours and create triple-platinum-selling records as easily as the rest of us make breakfast. In the middle are the supporting acts who make good music and are always nominated for awards, but never win the ones that count. Then, finally, at the bottom you find the underground favourites who make unique and daring music that only wins them the devotion of a small niche of fans.
Seven years ago, Foals would have been the perfect archetype of an underground band, but with their latest album, Holy Fire, it seems that the Oxford rockers have shot all the way to the top drawer of the musical hierarchy.
The first thing you’ll hear when you listen to the album is that this isn’t typical Foals material. The math-rock that got them noticed with Antidotes is nowhere to be seen. The broody meditation that was all over Total Life Forever has also been left behind. “Prelude” reels you in with four minutes of instruments and deliberately unintelligible vocals that begin softly but erupt to life in the last minute of the song. By the time “Inhaler” kicks in and lead singer Yannis Philippakis yells “I can’t get enough space,” you’ll be lost in the heaviest guitar hangover you’ve ever had.
Holy Fire, from start to finish, is a compilation of stadium-ready songs with head-banging guitar chords and hooks that were made for concert crowd sing-alongs. The lyrics in this record are a little less complicated than on the previous two albums. “My Number”, for instance, is a dancy track whose meaning is summarised in the first verse: “You don’t have my number / We don’t need each other now / We don’t need the city / the creed or the culture now.” Most of the other songs are as lyrically thin, but are held together quite heroically by the raw arrangement that the band threw all over the album.
Beside the two lead singles “Inhaler” and “My Number”, look out for “Milk and Black Spiders” and “Providence” – two tracks that hark back to Total Life Forever a little but still have the edgy rasp of Foals’s apparent new sound. “Stepson”, one of the quieter numbers on the album, packs an emotional punch that almost guarantees the cheesy raising of lighters by concert-goers, but it sounds too similar to the equally mopey album-closer “Moon”. But in the company of all the other miraculously produced tracks, you’ll hardly notice.
Having narrowly missed out on the Mercury Prize in 2010 with Total Life Forever, Foals have regrouped and remerged with gutsy tunes and what feels like biblical vengeance.