I receive a lot of albums to review and it is often a daunting task to wade through reams of, shall we say, disappointing music before hitting gold. In the case of Holon, I wasn’t familiar with the name – perhaps unsurprising as this is their first release – and it could have easily been overlooked as it lay at the bottom of a pile of discs, mainly various shades of prog metal of decidedly varying quality, that I was skipping through. Finally, the last disc. I’m getting tired now and expectations are low…
From the sitar infused intro to The Belly Of Being, it is clear that this is something very different and my attention is immediately engaged. No handle on what was going on yet but it captivated me for the entire running time and I didn’t even think of hitting the skip button. This is what it’s all about. This is why you keep ploughing through all the releases that probably shouldn’t have been, to find a work of culture, ambition and intent made by talented musicians who should be cherished in the modern world but are all too often marginalised amidst the sea of detritus that surrounds them.
Written over 10 years, The Time Is Always Now is a loose concept based on singer, songwriter and guitarist Ronny Pedersen’s spiritual journey to find place and purpose, influenced by his embracing of Buddhist thinking. It’s a work of depth and detail, patchouli scent hanging in a psychedelic haze that on one hand casts the mind back to the ’60s, but on the other keeps you very much focused by the more modern take of the music, the potentially hippy edge dissipated by the directness of the compositions and playing coupled with an accessible way with a melody. With Rhys Marsh also involved as producer, arranger and performer this is already an intriguing prospect, but add members of Jaga Jazzist, White Willow and Wobbler and it really is an album to whet the appetite.
Before hearing a note it is often the instrument list on the sleeve that is cause for excitement and here there are references to multiple vocalists, the aforementioned sitar, pedal steel, Mellotron, Rhodes and Hammond, flute and “bowable things”. Yummy. And they have all been crafted together into a wonderfully ethereal sound via some superb performances. There is much listening to be repeated on this one to wring out every nuance.
The focus is wide ranging, taking influences from the early years of prog and more modern times, art rock and a beautifully melodic approach. There are few limits and the end result is impressive and exciting. As Pedersen says, “music that can satisfy the heart and both halves of the brain”, and much thought has clearly gone into making this album the best it can be. The Belly Of Being continues with syncopated clapping, acoustic guitars forming a serene dance before sheets of organic electricity sweep in and the intensity builds. A deft keyboard theme adds a compelling melody with acoustic line emerging, warm and tantalizing, with flute and keys expanding the sound. Another keyboard melody interlocks with piano to finally usher in the first vocals after 7 minutes. It’s like peeling the layers of an onion, beautifully done and an excellent taster for the feel of the rest of the album.
The vocals, predominantly by Pedersen, are excellent and he joins beautifully with Kari Harneshaug for Dancer In The Sky and Silje Leirvik who puts in a stunning performance on Falling, combining with Pedersen for an emotional duet, the piece moving into a spooky acoustic and flute driven instrumental section in the second half. Rhys Marsh takes the lead on two tracks; the late ’60s psychedelia of The Times They Are A-Taming which suggests Time And A Word in the chorus harmonies but the overriding feel is purely Scandinavian, added Mellotron underlining the reference, the instrumental sections possessing Anekdoten drive and free-form intensity. Time To Go is dark and beautifully delivered in breathy tones. There’s a purity that builds before exploding on a simple but hugely effective guitar and drums riff, supporting harmony vocals with real power, and the blazing instrumental section features an epic Hammond solo from Lars Fredrik Frøislie.
Two Grains Of Sand is a beautiful acoustic song that opens out into an epic and harmonious chorus, the track progressing with a rhythmic ’80s feel, Harneshaug again providing some of the lead vocals. The use of varying keyboard textures is important on The Time Is Always Now and the title track uses Rhodes to good effect before taking off on a rolling Anekdoten groove. An unexpected addition is the use of the much derided Vocoder for the chorus vocals, but the impact is striking and it works for me. The end section is a different beast, sparse with piano and lap steel from Marsh, it returns beautifully to some of the melodies from The Belly Of Being, building to a storming conclusion on a new circular theme. Fantastic stuff. Finally, A Drop Of Me adds real rock punch to end the album on a high with interlocking harmony vocals and the return of the sitar.
This is a simply beautiful release, delicate and acoustic with a folk edge at times but with the dynamic range to rise to epic and full blown electric proportions for maximum effect. Most of the tracks are lengthy and use their time well with plenty of melody and tension in the compelling arrangements. The instrumentation is rich and the quality of the musicianship of a very high standard. Pedersen lets rip with some lovely guitar solos in varying styles and he is clearly a skilled musician and writer, Marsh adding the sprinkles of magic to allow the album to reach its full potential.
There is a melancholic serenity but this is not a miserable album to listen to by any means, more a joyous expression of what can be achieved when true talent is left to its own devices. Anyone with a liking for Scandinavian sounds is sure to find much to enjoy here in an album that comes very highly recommended indeed.
01. The Belly Of Being (9:43)
02. The Times They Are A-Taming (7:04)
03. Dancer In The Sky (5:00)
04. Falling (10:42)
05. Time To Go (10:06)
06. Two Grains Of Sand (5:45)
07. The Time Is Always Now (11:11)
08. A Drop Of Me (8:42)
Total time – 77:13
Ronny Pedersen – Guitars, Lead Vocals (tracks 1,3,4,6,7 & 8), Backing Vocals (track 2), Bass (tracks 1,5,7 & 8), Sitar, Programming
Rhys Marsh – Lead Vocals (tracks 2 & 5), Backing Vocals (tracks 1,3,6,7 & 8), Pedal Steel, Bass (tracks 2,3,4,7 & 8), Mellotron, Rhodes, Piano, Vocoder Modulation (track 7), various keys and all things bowable
Geir Anfinn Halland Johansen – Drums
Silje Leirvik – Lead Vocals (track 4), Backing Vocals (tracks 1,2,6,7 & 8)
Kari Harneshaug – Lead Vocals (tracks 3 & 6)
Ketil Vestrum Einarsen – Flute (tracks 1,4 & 8)
Lars Fredrik Frøislie – Hammond Solo (track 5)
Record Label: Autumnsongs Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 12thAugust 2016