Holy roller, unholy riffs.
When I think about the future of heavy music, I think of a handful of artists: Loathe, Polyphia, Issues, Sleep Token, Code Orange, and as per the subject of this very article, Spiritbox. The band’s last two singles, 2019’s ‘Rule Of Nines‘ and this year’s ‘Blessed Be‘ were both fucking phenomenal. As they do share artwork, just coloured differently to reflect each songs different theme and mood, I’ve always thought of them as sibling tracks: they go together like two peas in a pod. However, one very fair criticism to be levelled is that both tracks feature pretty much the same formula and structure. Released last Friday, however, ‘Holy Roller‘ changes that up.
Like all of their past songs, this is a cohesive piece, but the difference is that things are far darker and more violent, presented in a neat and tidy three minutes. On any other Spiritbox song, we’d hear a mix of their strong atmospherics, ethereal vocal melodies, and their djenty, prog-metal heaviness rolled into one. Yet for ‘Holy Roller,’ sitting on the shorter side for Spiritbox, the band eschew melodic light and pleasantries altogether, maintaining what is the heaviest, bounciest and most volatile, sonically terrifying few minutes of music they’ve ever released. Outside of the clanking distorted synths in the intro and outro, that slick vocoder robotic vocal, and the pumping drum-and-bass samples, this thing is all power and punishment. This all helps to make ‘Holy Roller‘ stand out amongst their release catalogue, demanding that you take notice of its confronting, scorched-earth mentality. It’s all about delivering a brutal fatality, about just how low and heavy the bending riffs, harsh vocals and huge breakdowns can possibly go, with some gnarly scrapes added in for good measure. Yes, it’s very over the top but that’s also the whole point of the song, and it works brilliantly.
A “holy roller” often best describes an over-zealous member of evangelical Christian groups, the kind that display their religious ecstasy by overblown frenzied excitement, shaking their bodies violently and falling all over the place. ‘Holy Roller‘ itself is littered with nods towards Christianity – references to Nazareth, seraphims (angels), fall from graces, paradises, blood being turned into wine, take-of-my-body-this-bread, etc. – and is based around the idea, or at least the image, of faith. Though from where I’m standing, the song seems more like a condemnation of those who poison the well for others in order to arbitrarily and selfishly advance their own spirituality points. Whether through bigotry, ignorance, social exclusion, empty gestures, riches or other means. I think it’s all found in the songs opening line: “Holy roller sits in the garden we fled“; those who just want paradise all to themselves, and damn whoever they must step over in order to achieve it. As the song later states, when you die, they sure won’t pray for you. Metaphor or not, ‘Holy Roller‘ is in some form about the monstrous ways that selfishness and callousness in people can manifest towards others; how we must cut such individuals out, less they drag us down.
Visually, the songs music video is presented in two parts. The first is that of lyricist and vocalist, Courtney LaPlante, evoking the cultish imagery of Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019) with innocent smiles, long dresses, happy dancing, and cute flower wreaths over bright lens flares and analogue graininess, though with an unnerving edge underneath it. Whereas the second part is the exact opposite: the vocalist seen wearing corpse paint, creepy washed out contact lenses, throwing the camera piercing looks, with long nails, black blood spilling out, and blackened ash covered skin. Throughout the video, these two worlds are separated, but towards the end they start to merge, and you soon see the latter’s cruel hands subtly appear around Courtney’s throat. Visuals reminiscent of the kind of scenes found in any number of modern demonic possession horror films – your Conjuring’s, your Insidious‘, your Grudge’s, and so on. This really is a perfect visual match for such a relentlessly heavy song. And for a music video that was pulled together during quarantine, this is a cut above what so many artists share from their home studios and bedrooms.
Courtney recently spoke about this blistering track’s creation and subsequent placement within what will be their forthcoming debut record (which is expected to be out in 2021), writing that:
“This song was never intended to be a single. We wrote it in January to be an “angry” pallet cleanser on an otherwise dark, moody atmospheric album. Our mission statement was: “let’s make the most ridiculous song that we can.” When we had the opportunity to tour Europe in March, we decided to put the unfinished song in our set, since we enjoyed it so much. Until our tour was cut short due to the pandemic, it was the highlight of each night. We were scheduled to record our record in April, which of course had to be postponed due to Covid-19. Once we realized being back in a studio and traveling across borders would not be a reality for the foreseeable future, we decided to get proactive and take matters into our own hands. The song that was meant to be a fun deep cut turned into our obsession, and we felt compelled to record it. Once we figured out the best way to track with our producer Dan Braunstein over zoom, in real time using a direct audio feed, we quickly got to work with him, so we were able to recreate his in-studio quality to the best of our abilities, with him guiding us from his studio in LA.”
Roll with some new Spiritbox holiness below: