Here we have some doom metal with a lo-fi feel by a band from Richmond, VA. Ursa Minor is Holden’s first album. One would expect any album in a “slow” subgenre like this one to be fairly long and massive-sounding. Instead, Ursa Minor clocks in at only 40 minutes, with the “quality over quantity” excuse failing to be applicable, as they did not develop their musical ideas to their full potential. A debuting band ought to show either how broad or deep their material goes and they did neither.
Holden present themselves as a post-metal band. The difference between that and “doom metal” lie in the usual aesthetic distinctions that justify these labels, but also in origin and effect. Post-metal originated in the hardcore scene, as frustrated punks played slower than most metal at the time. Godflesh’s first two albums seem almost reactionary when one realizes that Justin Broadrick had just finished a stint in Napalm Death. Everything Neurosis except their first two albums has the same feel. Holden embrace some of the aesthetics of post-metal, using sludge to fill a low-fi sonic space and adding some dissonance for an eerie, disturbing effect on Ursa Minor’s openers “After the Fact” and “Sparks Between Teeth.” Unfortunately, that’s where Holden’s post-metal credentials end.
Doom metal is a completely different beast: traditional a la Black Sabbath with crushing slow riffs and a bit of groove thrown in. Ursa Minor’s centerpiece is a 15 minute instrumental epic called “However Small, However Hidden” which sounds almost like an extended jam rather than a coherent song. It even has some mood-whiplash moments near its beginning (about 3 minutes in) that recall ’80s thrash (Mastodon fans will like what they hear). That song gets followed by “Emperor of Maladies,” a far more straightforward doom track where the vocals come in early , seeming like a reminder that, yes, Holden do have a vocalist. The album closes with the two-minute instrumental “The Way it Was and Will Be,” a song that spites its brevity by having no defined ending. It just fades out, twice in fact.
In terms of overall quality, Ursa Minor is a mixed bag. The writing is typical of many debuts, with Holden throwing as many ideas as they can. That it includes two instrumentals and four spotty vocal numbers suggests they should have developed more ideas before releasing an album. .