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Holden – Ursa Minor

Ursa Minor
by Joseph Brewer at 07 April 2020, 9:34 PM

It did not take long for me to have my first WTF moment while listening to “Ursa Minor,” the debut album release from heavy hitting trio HOLDEN out of Richmond, Virginia. To be clear, there is absolutely nothing negative about that initial reaction. Mere moments into the album you are enveloped by massive, heavy, pounding, captivating metal. Doom and post-metal aspects reign in the forefront while progressive instrumental and compositional choices form the backbone of each track. At around 39 minutes long, “Ursa Minor” delivers a full-bodied titanic dive into a gloomy and bleak atmosphere while impressing upon you the severity of the human condition in the modern world.

The technical composition of the opening song “After the Fact” reaches a point of complexity that my mind wasn’t yet ready to process. The song starts off with a slow, heavy march thick with roaring downtuned guitar riffs from vocalist and guitar player Palmer Sturman, bouncing deep bass lines provided by Sam Berson, and a prominent yet sluggish drum rhythm executed by Michael Arcane. At about the 90 second mark, the drumbeats by Arcane start getting more unpredictable, the time signature flies out of the room, and you have no choice but to focus and try to keep up with this dazzling display of talent. As the song continues, the ambiance does not change, but new elements are introduced, such as the subdued distant screams from Sturman, a chromatic, arpeggio laden guitar solo, and a strong finishing crescendo that doesn’t ease up until the final seconds of this 8+ minute song. With this opening track, HOLDEN makes a clear statement to the listener: open yourself to the music and embrace the power.

However Small, However Hidden” is an ironically valid title for the halfway point of “Ursa Minor.” At 16+ minutes long, it truly is a grizzly of a track. Huge, mammoth guitar riffs surround and pummel you with dark, mighty energy from start to finish. Like the rest of their tracks, this thick, voluminous sound is anything but small. However, hidden along some of the more boundless repeating sections are these small, almost sub-riffs that creep along in the background. On the first pass of the song, you might not pick up on any of them, but it is elements like these that reward those that dedicate their attention to this lengthy track and are thoughtful enough to listen for them. The thrill that you feel when you pick up on something new provides more depth to an already impressive song.

Sparks Between Teeth” and “Emperor of Maladies” both deliver slightly more standard song structures, if that can even be said for a prog influenced doom album like “Ursa Minor.” Perhaps it is because these songs dedicate themselves more to allowing Palmer Sturman’s vocals take center stage. Sturman varies his delivery routinely, varying between high pitched black metal screams and a sort of moaning far-off clean singing. Both of those approaches contribute well to the atmosphere for the album and provide a nice contrast and dissonance sonically. In “Emperor of Maladies” in particular, there is a section in the verses where the phrasing and inflection of the vocal lines match the rhythm of the instrumentation beat for beat and create an overall mesmerizing and moving effect.

The Way it Was and the Way it Will Be” provides a much needed cool down from the enormity of the rest of the album. It’s also the source of one of the more questionable decisions in the album. The song is only two minutes long, but for some reason, at about the one-minute mark, the song completely fades away, before fading right back in for the last little section of the song. Honestly, it’s kind of an odd choice that I don’t think is really effective for the album. But as it fades away the feeling of finality for the album remains.

Fans of atmospheric black/doom metal will not be disappointed by this album. The long, drawn out, churning riffs are punchy and engaging. And HOLDEN integrates plenty of proggy, experimental moments that keep the album lively and can pique the interest of metal fans like myself that do not normally stray to this style of music. This album was independently produced by HOLDEN and is a project born out of talent and, most of all, passion. With rumors of “Ursa Major” on deck, any metal fan out there should not waste any time adding HOLDEN to their collection.

Favorite Songs: “After the Fact,” “However Small, However Hidden

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 8
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. After the Fact
2. Sparks Between Teeth
3. However Small, However Hidden
4. Emperor of Maladies
5. The Way It Was and Will Be
Palmer Sturman – Guitars and Vocals
Sam Berson – Bass
Michael Arcane – Drums
Record Label: Independent


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Edited 08 February 2023

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