The same words open and close Holy Fawn’s sophomore album, delivered with the same delicate tremble by vocalist Ryan Osterman. Like recounting a premonition, he whispers about “a circular pattern / a hex I abide” on lush track “Hexsewn,” ending the introductory song with the words, “I’ll find you again / In some other life.” That promise comes back in full force on the record’s closer “Blood Memory,” where Osterman’s words and soft vocals return, but the sounds around them are immensely heavier. The guitar tone is now harsh, trudging in place of the earlier languid grace. Austin Reinholz’s drums fall louder, colossal enough to make the whole thing feel on the verge of collapsing. And behind Osterman’s lead vocals, a screamed backing track mirrors his every word.
In Dimensional Bleed’s framing device, Holy Fawn showcase their greatest strength: capturing the middle ground between the transcendent divinity of shoegaze and the formidable heft of metal. There’s been no shortage of bands over the past decade putting their own spin on this blend of genres—from Deafheaven’s gradual shift across the spectrum throughout their discography, to Russian group Olhava’s tendency to alternate between the two with each track. But when Holy Fawn, an Arizona-based quartet, broke onto the scene in 2018 with their staggering debut Death Spells, it was immediately clear that—like the best of their contemporaries—the band’s careful, consistent balance between the subdued and the noisy carved out an approach to this sound that’s entirely their own.
As the group’s follow-up, Dimensional Bleed finds itself at the crucial juncture of being Holy Fawn’s pivotal refinement of what excited listeners on Death Spells, and it executes on that front with enough panache and confidence to firmly cement the band among their peers. Like its predecessor, this new record excels at never pulling the band too far toward either end of their sound, never rendering its post-rock or black metal roots an afterthought. At all turns, Dimensional Bleed holds the sublime and the saturnine in equal reverence, and the album is all the more exceptional for it.
Often, this duality plays out in the confines of a single song. Holy Fawn have a tremendous knack for beginning a song within the ethereal, letting Evan Phelps’ effects-laden guitars and electronic flourishes envelop the listener, before organically building toward heavier passages that were lying in wait all along. Early Manchester Orchestra-esque highlight “Lift Your Head” most clearly demonstrates this, with its initial luminous guitar loops gradually growing more corrupted, until the whole thing comes crashing down in a barrage of drum fills and screams. Lead single “Death Is A Relief” channels this arc into a dream-pop behemoth whose roaring percussion on the chorus primes the track for an even more vicious breakdown at its climax.
Occasionally, Holy Fawn invert their approach and proves just how powerful the comedown from brutality can be. Following the aforementioned breakneck culmination of “Death Is A Relief,” the band lurch back into a serene lo-fi acoustic outro, unexpected enough to stop one’s breath just as much as what came before. In its final moments, the lumbering nature of late cut “Sightless” suddenly dissipates into a frenzied piano part, almost as if the track itself is evaporating in an instant.
The ease with which Holy Fawn can adjust depending on what a song calls for is especially appropriate, given the band’s larger aims from the outset. Like Death Spells, Dimensional Bleed seeks to ascribe a symbiotic fluidity between the earthly and the cosmic, finding common ground between wonderment at the natural world and at the unfathomable vastness surrounding human life. For Holy Fawn, these elements—like the shoegaze and metal influences from which they draw—go hand-in-hand with one another, an outlook that informs not only each track’s spaces on the outskirts of genre, but also Dimensional Bleed’s sequencing, which provides enough regular alternation between modes to maintain this balance.
Consequently, Holy Fawn’s viewpoint on the world around them seeps into their vividly abstract lyricism. Elements of nature intertwine with the menace of death, as in the opening lines of “Blood Memory” (“Grasp my neck / Like vines”). “Void of Light” maintains this dichotomy, with Osterman singing, “Am I drifting down to your petals / Drag my feet to the bone / Some poor kill that you’ve drawn,” before the shroud of death overtakes the song. Fittingly, though, it’s “Death Is A Relief” that threads an open acceptance of mortality, with the lines, “Come and light the fire / From every end / When our hands look old / When we smile at death,” transforming the track into a thesis that death is no less natural than any other matters Holy Fawn depict.
The group’s bilateral consideration on all fronts extends to their capacity for both patience and concision across Dimensional Bleed, as well. The record’s two longest tracks—“Empty Vials” and “Sightless”—unfurl like doom-shoegaze epics over seven minutes, gently foreboding at first before pushing into heavier territory, their pace hitting all the harder for how it breeds anxious anticipation. Conversely, the band know when to hew more direct, offering “Void of Light” and the album’s title track as shorter, more ferocious tracks whose metal leanings become their own form of release and catharsis.
It’s this kind of versatility and attention to the heft that different forms of blackgaze songs can take that makes Dimensional Bleed a remarkable listen, as gargantuan and awe-inspiring as the scenes Holy Fawn set. With this second LP, Holy Fawn prove that their lasting impact as a band feels not entirely dissimilar to how the record itself ends—the harsh final push of “Blood Memory” cut short, a coda of twinkling piano and delicate plucked strings taking its place. There’s beauty beneath the brutality, an ellipsis to be found again in some other life.
Natalie Marlin is a freelance music and film writer based in Minneapolis who has contributed to sites such as Stereogum, Little White Lies and Bitch Media, and previously wrote as a staff writer at Allston Pudding. She also regularly appears on the Indieheads Podcast. Follow her on Twitter at @NataliesNotInIt.