Foals’ third studio album starts how it means to go on with the four minute instrumental “Prelude“. Like the album as a whole, this track leaves me with one word: intriguing with hints of darkness and tribalness, something the group experimented with in the studio: “At one point we even made these poor studio interns collect bones. We were inspired by voodoo, these Haitian rhythms. We collected some ourselves, from butchers in Willesden High Road. Mainly cows, I think often they had gristle and cartilage on them, mainly cow and occasionally sheep. We had to order these big pots because one of the shoulder blades was too big! We boiled the flesh away so we could use them as percussion! We wanted to get primitive!”. The track grows in intensity as it goes on, with the first of many riffs that border on the sexually pleasing. It’s a perfect tee-up to the second track on the album, “Inhaler“, like a magnificent pass leading up to a wonder-goal. Inhaler could have it’s own essay, it probably should have its own book. It’s not only only a great song in the context of the album or Foals as a band, it’s an all-time great, definitely in my top 5. The opening sounds reverberate around your head cosmically in a strange sensation, before Jack Bevan’s powerful drumming shakes the listener out of this surreal trance. Yannis Philipakis’ vocals are really at the peak of their powers, particularly in the choruses, described as a “satisfyingly gruff roar”. The song’s atmosphere is really intense and angry, as is a lot of the album, which means the choruses have a great impact, Yannis is almost screaming “I can’t get enough space!”. The lyrics too add to this feel of irritation and anger towards someone or something, as Yannis himself told NME “[Inhaler is] about feeling under attack. I tapped into that feeling of rush-hour claustrophobia, wanting to scream everybody away and gain space for myself”. Foals return to their usual melodic “poppy” style on track number three with “My Number“. If I had to pick a tune that best represented Foals as a band, this would be it, an upbeat song with extremely catchy melodies. It really is an indie anthem and the lyrics are quite upbeat, moving on from a former lover, and was once a song I would listen to religiously everyday. There is a real sense of optimism about My number, something that may be indescribable and valuable on a personal level. Mike Driver of the BBC, argues the same about this strong opening to the album: “Holy Fire’s lead tracks, Inhaler and My Number, comprise tone-setters for this slickly realised set, which focuses on instant-click compositions over consciousness-creepers. That both sound enormous may have everything to do with Alan Moulder and Flood’s production – and if not, their presence can’t have hurt”.
The next three songs take the intensity and excitement down a notch, but add to the album as a textured, diverse piece of art. “Bad Habit” is halfheartedly melancholy and feels a bit self-pitying in regard to it’s lyrics, although there are the usual brilliant melodies. But the song just seems to lack that edge, that bite that is customary to Foals songs, as Mike Driver concurs: “It lacks the singular spark that makes this band’s best cuts stand boldly from the crowd”. As does “Everytime” to some extent, although the riff in the chorus and effectively subtle use of a banjo make it mercurial in some aspects. However the repetitive lyrics seem to decrease the impact of this great production. “Late Night” benefits from having been on a Sky Sports advert recently and therefore I had heard and admired the rhythm guitar riff. The track slowly builds, with that intriguing riff a constant, added to some brilliant vocals from Yannis making for a mystifying listen.
The album picks up more with “Out of the woods“. Some tribal percussion, almost steel drum-like, and some feminine backing vocals create a blissful, heavenly atmosphere, as the lyrics also perpetuate “it was just a dream, the most beautiful place I’ve seen”. This is essentially contrast to the dark connotations of what “the woods” represents and the delight of the protagonist to be out of them is evident: “Never felt better than when I’m on my way out of the woods”. “Milk and black spiders” is one of the albums occasional misses and will probably lose the battle with the skip button, even then it is by no means offensive to listen to as the end of the song is once again a crescendo of different influences, again including steel drum-like sounds, but again it does suffer from the irritatingly repetitive lyrics and a certain nondescript feeling.
The album roars back into life with the monster track “Providence“. The three opening notes echo like they have emerged from the depths of Hell, leaving a distinct sense of foreboding. Everything on the track is slick and well timed, a sign of excellent production, and this time the repetitive lyrics reinforce the motif of animalistic behaviour and tribalism: “I know I cannot be true, I’m an animal just like you, Oh I’ll bleed just a little bit too, oh I’ll bleed just like you”, This and perhaps inhaler, are for me, the epitome of Holy Fire, making the listener really feel an anger and darkness from deep within. The epic ends with a two-minute drum solo, the best I’ve ever heard in terms of quantity and pace. This is where the excitement really kicks in deep, with Bevan’s epic drumming dying off for only a second, then roaring back in an awe-inspiring and electric manner. Providence is a magnificent, thrilling rock song, which we see more of in Foals next album What Went Down.
The album slowly fades off with “Stepson” and “Moon”, two quiet album tracks, which have to be listened to a few times before the listener can appreciate them as part of the larger context of the album. If anything they add a contrasting calm to the thrill-a-minute monster that comes before them.
Overall this album is seen as Foals’ coming of age masterpiece, more than fulfilling the promise of earlier albums “Antidotes” and “Total Life Forever”. This is a confirmation that Foals’ are one of the biggest and best bands in Britain, of which now there is no doubt after the follow up of Holy Fire with What Went Down. The flames of future success are burning bright because of Holy Fire