Kehlvin formed in 1999 and have been devastating audiences with their concoction of post-hardcore and sludge metal from their citadel in Switzerland since day one. In these two decades of sporadic activity, the band’s discography shows two full-length albums, one EP, two split records, and nothing after 2015. The mission on their new release is to revisit their metallic hardcore roots without sacrificing the slurry of doom metal essential to their modern sound. On the evidence here, they have no problem exceeding these goals and might even be making inroads into the post-metal scene.
You know Holistic Dreams will be a captivating record just from the opening notes. ‘The Impossibility of Progress’ is a monstrous affair centred around two guitarists playing different patterns in the same rhythmic phase. Listen to the distorted bass and ferocious vocal roars – this could be Neurosis in its intensity and unorthodox chord choices. But it soon strikes you that the Swiss quintet have no intention to follow the trend towards anxiety-ridden dissonance over melody. You’ll find no ninth chords or out-of-key arpeggios here. Standout track, ‘The Walking Clay’, subsists on a fuzzy doom riff played with the strange technique of a violent funk rock and gives the perfect platform for the singer to damage his lungs with a glut of vicious screams. It’s intense, yet it also rocks out and is not afraid to reset the dynamics with a sinister waltz that recalls ‘Baby’s First Coffin’ by Dillinger Escape Plan in the way it builds once more towards a violent climax. You can imagine Greg Puciato unleashing the avalanche of muscular belting on ‘Causation Failure’, although the unorthodox doom metal chords in the intro and the staccato blasts towards the end will monopolise your attention. Who knows what they’re screaming about? But it sounds traumatic.
Of course, you wouldn’t expect Holistic Dreams to be anything but heavy on an emotional and sonic level for a band that released a split record with Rorcal in the past. ‘Electric Monks’ encapsulates the leftfield brutality with its Converge spasms and bizarre Tom Waits vocals masquerading as hardcore adrenaline. Here the singer’s phonation is unhinged but on the cusp of a melody that never arrives. Most bands would rely on the eight-string drop-F power chords here to enhance the thick coated distortion, but Kehlvin remind us that you can explore the mid-range pitch of a guitar and still be as heavy as Decapitated. ‘Gently Thinking’ is more Soundgarden territory in the way they search for melody in a minefield of unusual root notes. This one ramps up the hardcore fury but tries to find the emotive tinge of 90s alternative rock in the use of minor triad chords. Kehlvin don’t bother coating their music with fancy effects – their roots are hardcore. They find the chords on their own volition and not through music theory. Do you think the members of Cave In or At The Drive In knew what they were doing when they experimented with their instruments? You decide whether closing track ‘Flash Backward’ is like Dillinger Escape Plan without blast beats or The Ocean without the low-end tremors rumbling through your chest. Either way, it will not diminish your enjoyment of the vocal performance. Perhaps the easiest way to describe this is a screamo frontman using the lungs of a grunge great from yesteryear. There’s also enough sludge metal here to keep the most ardent Mastodon fan happy.
A lyric sheet would be nice to see what animates the transcendent aggression behind the music, but we don’t even know the names of the band members. Nonetheless, Holistic Dreams is a powerful bluster of raw emotion, and it needs no cerebral explanation or logic when the instrumentation can do the talking. Let the music guide you to the epiphanic places you never considered but always knew existed.
Release Date: 24/09/2021
Record Label: Division Records
Standout tracks: The Walking Clay, Electric Monks, Gently Thinking
Suggested Further Listening: Dillinger Escape Plan – Miss Machine (2004), Dvne – Eteman Ænka (2021), Soundgarden – Louder than Love (1989)