Three years on from their killer debut, Dream Soda, Demob Happy have finally returned with a powerful follow-up. They’ve lost a guitarist along the way, with the 2016 departure of Mathew Renforth, but Holy Doom still retains the band’s weighty presence on record, paired with an even greater sense of melody and harmony. Don’t for a second think they’ve gone soft though – this is a full throttle record, only its choruses are fuelled by harmonies that The Beatles would have been proud of. In fact, The Beatles come to mind quite a lot when listening to the retro rock stylings of Holy Doom. There’s a definite Lennon-esque twang to Matthew Marcantonio’s lead vocal, and the record is full of the sort of angular riffs that recall, at times, both the Fab Four’s heaviest and most psychedelic moments. Of course, Demob Happy are a damn site heavier than The Beatles ever could have been.
Demob Happy formed in Newcastle in 2008, but relocated to Brighton as the bandmates reached university age. They decided to stick together to keep the group going somewhere that already had a scene and was within easy reach of London. These guys slid right into the Brighton scene, and rose to the top with ease, thanks to their raucous live show, party spirit and excellent songs. All of this seemed to crystallize perfectly for that debut album, although presumably some sort of tension came to the fore in the aftermath, or I expect Renforth would have stayed on board. It’s hard to say though: for a group with such a long shared history they seem remarkably tight lipped about losing a founding member. When the band initially came back last year with the Tom Dalgety produced stand-alone single ‘Dead Dreamers’, I was quite surprised at the dramatic shift in direction. It was a great sounding recording, but also felt too much of a departure. It sounded so much like a big Muse or Queens of the Stone Age radio single, that it lost some of their edge and uniqueness along the way. It’s quite telling they’ve not included it on Holy Doom. It’s an album that sounds like an appropriate and worthy successor to the debut, and one that won’t sound much different live on stage to how it sounds on your stereo – important for a band with such a formidable live show.
The album opens with an amazing run, from the densely structured opener ‘Liar In Your Head’, to the perfect harmonies of single ‘Be Your Man’ and the insatiable tension-filled groove of ‘Loosen It’. With this opening salvo they really hammer home their unique appeal as a band. A group who are exciting, and maybe a little scary on the first listen, but also extremely rewarding to us album lovers, who want to keep discovering buried treasure every time we come back for more. ‘Fake Satan’ sounds like it could be the next single, a glam stomper of a tune, which has a (probably accidental) hint of The Buzzcocks’ ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ to its pre-chorus, with quite a similar lyrical direction about feeling out of pace with the prescribed happiness that surrounds. ‘Runnin’ Around’ seems a bit of a production experiment, with an extremely sharp contrast between its mellow Doors-esque verses and the massive in-yer-face rock of the chorus. They briefly trick you into thinking you’ve reached a chill out at the end of side one, before lurching powerfully back up to full blast!
The title track, ‘Holy Doom’, is a real change of pace and feel, with added keyboards that help open the song up, rather then building upon the already dense palette. Well over halfway through the album and it’s the first track, apart from ‘Running Around’ that isn’t dominated by heavy fuzz guitar and bass riffs. The bassline gives it a hint of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ while the guitar and synth sounds take the song off in a moody direction that makes me imagine it suiting a crime thriller. There’s something disconcerting here about the thin falsetto lead vocal, making the track seem a little unhinged, despite, or perhaps because it’s the least aggressive thing on here.
The second half of the album feels a little weaker than the first side. There’s something quite Neanderthal about ‘Maker of Mine’ and ‘Spinning Out’ which, while sounding like they would be thrilling live, don’t quite deliver with the same depth of ideas that they boast of elsewhere. Still, a few short blasts of the relentlessly aggressive does little to unbalance a record so full of intrigue and sleaze. Where the first half consistently hits the bullseye of what this band are best at, the back half takes more extreme lunges to either side, with results that are more often thrilling than not. ‘Fresh Outta Luck’ closes the album sounding like Blur at the heights of their post-Britpop grooves, while ‘I Wanna Leave (Alive)’ is a demented kind of genius that sounds like no one else. All in all it’s hard to deny that this is premium Demob Happy and well worth the wait. It’s an album that smacks you hard in the face with the first listen, then gently caresses your blood-soaked hair and coos in your ear when you return for more. Demob Happy have returned to kidnap your ears, and you’re about to develop Stockholm syndrome.