The self-titled album Holy Popes is based on the idea of idol worship, giving false and often eccentric importance to our own man-made ideas. Our systems of capitalism, oppression, religion and patriarchy are smashed in each gritty track.
“It’s a farce, and music is a machine that kills fascism and bigotry … let’s dance whilst we overthrow harmful systems”Dominic Knight, Holy Popes guitarist
Bristol-based Holy Popes got together in 2020, guitarist, Dominic Knight (ex-The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster) and excellent drummer Luke Bujniewicz formed the band, then, after finding Jake Beckett to play bass they knew they had something special in this trio. Their distorted garage punk sound is refreshing, and a nice album to wade into during this topsy-turvy January of warm and chilly weather.
“We did our first gig the week of lockdown, and for two years after that we barely saw a live show, let alone play one. During that time, though, we began working on our album, producing and recording it ourselves during the months that lockdown eased. We wanted to make something raw and in-your-face, so in the spring of 2022, we spent two days laying down the album live in our studio.”Dominic Knight
Their debut album, released via Hull-based independence label Man Demolish Records – Holy Popes has a hold of that feeling when music really matters. It is a voice of the people, a way we have used through the ages to prove our points and to share stories and ideas. This album has something pretty magical about it through all the distortion and emotion, it’s something that all of us can relate to in the system we find ourselves in at the moment, a relief in the continuity of pain that the last few years have seemed to bring. A release.
“We didn’t care. We were making exactly what we wanted with no intention of thinking about labels, tours, fans… it made us excited again”Dominic Knight
So let’s dive into a track-by-track review of just what makes Holy Popes such an exquisite debut album.
A little jaunty jingle into the album, the ‘prelude’ sets the scene as a whistly folk band. Quite different from what we’d expect. It’s nice to see intro tracks like this on albums, reminiscent of days of CDs and reading over those little lyric books.
We never went in with the aim of making an album. This project was supposed to be fun and without pressure, some mates making music that they really wanted to and no goal in sight. After a while we realised we had enough tunes and the response was overwhelmingly positive, so we spent some time fine tuning them before we decided to produce and record the album ourselves. I don’t think either of us have ever made a record we’ve been happier with and I hope it comes across.Dominic Knight
‘Séance’ speaks of needing ‘a little lie down… when you live a little lie’, there were a lot of lies floating about the last few years and no one knew where they stood. Faith in the system was well and truly shaken and it’s nice to hear someone sing about it.
‘Seance’ is about the overwhelming state of the world. The need to rest, the need to step back and the need to fight. We are in a state of collective burnout where interacting with the reality of marginalised groups is not on many of our radars for a variety of reasons.
There is a paradox of activism, where taking time out is crucial but also feels massively hypocritical and privileged. Many of us whether we engage in politics or not can step out and step back, but women cannot step away from misogyny, people of colour cannot step away from racism, disabled people cannot step away from ableism and on and on. Séance is a call for self care and self awareness, whilst not losing sight of those most in need.Dominic Knight
‘Pencils’ was released back in November, on the subject of the complexity of the male experience within relationships in the 21st century. How toxic it is that men find it hard to show layers of emotion within a relationship due to patriarchal masculinity. How so often they fade into themselves rather than expressing how they truly feel, due to an inability to find the words.
As a woman listening to the song, I’d say that the truth is that this song crosses over to female perceptions too, and from romantic relationships into all of them. How can you have a close bond with anyone when you are too afraid to speak?
‘Pencils’ is about the complexities of the male experience within relationships, and how patriarchal masculinity does not allow us to express our multi-faceted layers of emotion. This repression often leads to toxic behaviours in relationships, and can easily progress into emotional or physical abuse. By rejecting patriarchal masculinity, we can not only help to end misogyny and sexism, but also provide kindness and compassion to ourselves and the men around us.Dominic Knight
Knight continued: “Music is so intertwined with the personal, it’s hard not to write about your own life experiences. Love, loss and breakups are such common themes, seemingly without end. So many songs about relationships are written from the male gaze, and if you unpick them ever so slightly, there is a heavy layer of misogyny. Coercion, manipulation and even stalking are painted in a positive light, whilst on the other side you have blame and self-pity. We can all be influenced by popular culture, and the way we, as men, frame relationships and women in general within music, is at very least, problematic”.
If there is anyone out there who couldn’t relate to this track at some point during lockdown, I want to know their secret because they are super-human. At one point or another we all ‘need a medic’. Reminiscent of early 90’s grunge, or even Gang of Four, ‘Medic’ is an excellent track and lets us all know in true, clear, Holy Popes Fashion – help is out there, we are not alone in how we feel.
This was the first song we wrote as a two piece, before Jake joined, and the first song I had written lyrically in a long time. I was going through a really difficult period with my mental health and not being very kind to myself, it was a bit of a blurt to exercise the demons. Although we’re (hopefully) getting much better now, men rarely share their deepest emotional needs and layers, and I suppose this was to challenge that.Domini Knight
- Better 4 U
Better 4 U’s lyrics are poetry:
“Drain the soul
Drain the hole
Is this what you call a man?
Red handed with a ghost and a lamb”
This band does not rely on music or lyrics alone, each track has just what it needs to get the point across. Live, I think these guys would be ace (info below).
Gender equality is a constant struggle and requires participation from all sides. Many men feel that with a rise in women’s rights, as well as those of the LGBTQIA+ community, it will push men to the bottom of the pile, somehow making them a minority. Understanding that liberation from patriarchy will benefit all of us is important, whilst acknowledging that men may lose degrees of their privilege. Is it better to maintain a tiny degree of power or stand up for equal rights?Dominic Knight
- Skin of an Ape
This song stood out from the rest for me. It struck a chord in my sentiment I wrote ‘I really like the sound – this is a good song’ which sums it up. ‘Skin of an Ape’ tells the story of a glistening, gory monster at the foot of the bed. But who or what does it represent – you decide.
Simply a look at the ways in which men interact with their peers, especially male children. The ideas of a singular, patriarchal masculinity. Strength, power, aggression, stoicism…etc. “define strength an emotional cannibal/cannonball/animal” this thought process is very damaging for children’s development, and we wonder why young men have such a propensity for violence, and express shock at the levels of domestic and sexual abuse in this country.Dominic Knight
DBT to me is a comment on the capitalist greed that we are all subjected to 24/7. We inhale money faster than we can see it, the small amount we get to keep after rent and bills that is. The TV tells us to set it on fire, so we do. A beautiful golden circle of spend, spend, spend, but where does it get us? When will the spending culture make us happy? Will we ever have enough?
Our entire system is based around debt. From using sea shells as markers of goods that are owed, to the paper money we hold in our hands being merely trust in an idea of wealth rather than having actual value. These ideas always affect the poorest in society and we see it so often with money lending, overdrafts and borrowing.Dominic Knight
Promoting ideas of climbing the social ladder through objects and wealth means people can no longer wait for the next car or phone, they have to borrow to obtain it today. This capitalist trick has us blame each other for our ills, and distracts us from the billions that are accrued by the very few, leaving behind them a trail of poor bodies, environmental destruction and social instability. Debt is slavery. Capitalism is organised crime.
I love the ‘interlude’, its noise – good noise, and it brings you back down to earth. Like you’re at a gig but you’re at home, at your laptop, listening to an album.
- Split Lip
‘Split lip’ is another poetic masterpiece, the lyrics say it all:
“Well I was always just a normal boy
When I was out in the sun
I got the seat around the table
with my split lip trying to see it with a telescope
Well I was never just a morbid boy
A silhouette tag along
In the corner with a rabbit foot
Dead legs and a belly laugh with wellies on”
This is another of my favourites on the album, the way the voices bounce and hop over the sound, the changes in pace and depth – it messes with your brain and when mixed with the lyrics it makes for a truly nice sounding song.
Many years ago I was walking home from a pub shift early in the morning, and got punched in the face for no reason, other than the apparent amusement of two men. They didn’t rob me or anything else, just a singular act of violence. We stopped and looked at each other for a few moments and they walked off. There was a strange serenity in this violation of my body so I wrote a song about it, borrowing influence from the violence I faced on a regular basis growing up in the fringes of London.Dominic Knight
There is definitely some Nick Cave shining on through this song, but with a garage punk twist, ending with an ode to the prelude. I hope Jerry is ok.
The Brexit referendum divided us and we all bit into the tribalism with glee. I’ve met many Brexit voters that were sold an idea, based on a lie, shrouded in patriotism and white nationalism, but that thought wasn’t theirs. A lot of hatred stems from a lack of education, which includes empathy and compassion. I don’t believe that everyone who wanted to leave the EU did so from a place of bigotry and racism, but I do believe the xenophobic, faux patriotic media campaigns by certain groups did so from a place of hatred. Punching down will never help us, we need to unify against those at the top.Dominic Knight
The final track on this album is a wonderful one. I’d love to dance to this in a venue full of sweaty tired people having an excellent evening. As with all Holy Popes tunes, it has a deeper meaning. It reminds us not to stay silent. Speak up when something is wrong, and put yourself out there. Make the changes you need to in your life – before you lose yourself.
Life is fucking hard, for some more than others. The models that we have growing up have a large part to play in who we become, but we’re not stuck. Through inquisitiveness and challenging ourselves, we can move away from negative cycles that have a detrimental effect on ourselves and those in our life. We are not fixed beings and the world is not binary. If we treat ourselves and others with kindness we can find our own personal ways out of the quagmire that weighs so heavy on us. A person I care very deeply about once told me that two opposing things can be true at the same time, and that has changed my life.Dominic Knight
I thoroughly enjoyed every inch of this album. It’s one you can sink your teeth into, dance to, or a bit of both. It’s joyful, it’s happy and it doesn’t get you down. It has a straight-to-the-point purpose, which I think is kind of rare to find in this kind of music these days. It has it’s own sound and style, it stands apart from most of the touring bands at the moment as something a little different, more honest.
This great three-piece, Holy Popes, will be playing a special album release show in Bristol at the Golden Lion on the 27th January.
The album is out on the 27th too, download it here.