After 2016’s Lady In Gold took Blues Pills to psychedelic new heights (as well as a No. 1 spot in Germany), the band retreated to the remote countryside of their native Sweden, built their own studio and began the construction of what would become Holy Moly!, this powerful third album. The result is the band’s most dynamic recording to date, less psychedelic than Lady In Gold but less raw than their 2014 self-titled debut.
Perhaps this change was a conscious decision, but the departure of guitarist Dorian Sorriaux in 2018 (with bassist Zack Anderson stepping in to replace him) has surely played a role too. Regardless, the sound they have adopted here is an effective one. While Holy Moly! certainly seems imbued with the spirit of ‘60s California, it’s also an album that’s exciting right now, and doesn’t find itself shackled by any one style. In fact, the album introduces some subtle but effective innovations, most notably in the introduction of funk influences, which merge effortlessly with the band’s blues rock template, never interfering with their ability to craft warm, fuzzy rock’n’roll that surges forward with earworm grooves.
These funk rock elements are made apparent right from opener and lead-single ‘Proud Woman’, a galloping anthem that serves as a fitting reintroduction to the band. Most notably, the track serves as a reminder of how fierce and charismatic Elin Larsson’s vocals are – always the perfect blend of rich, soulful melody and rough-around-the-edges rock’n’roll howls. On tracks like the driving ‘Rhythm In The Blood’ or the towering ‘Kiss My Past Goodbye’ they’ve never seemed more powerful, but on the gentler intro of the waltzing country rock-imbued power ballad ‘California’ or the folky ‘Wish I’d Known’, Larsson shows that she’s just as capable of accentuating the tender, more intimate moments.
Larsson’s vocals dominate each and every song, but their commanding nature demands quality musicianship to back her up, and these demands are vigorously met. Anderson’s contributions are slightly more restrained than his predecessor Sorriaux, but a less virtuoso performance seems apposite here – the band are more a united force this time around. Anderson and bassist Kristoffer Schander complement each other perfectly, whilst drummer Andre Kvarnstorm shines throughout, his standout moment coming early on during the driving verses of ‘Low Road’.
The album’s true strength lies in its ability to channel the spirit of the past without sinking into tame retro rock worship. While it pays homage to sounds now over half a century old, the lyrics deal with topics that are relevant now. The band have spoken about the album being born out of loss, anger and anxiety, and yet there’s the powerful anthem of ‘Proud Woman’, whilst ‘Low Road’ encourages you to face your problems and ‘Kiss My Past Goodbye’ sees Larsson confidently exclaiming “I hold my head up high”. There’s an empowering energy to Holy Moly!, one that wallows where necessary (‘Wish I’d Known’, ‘Longest Lasting Friend’) but also shows you a way out of the darkness.
Given the countless underwhelming heritage rock artists out there, Blues Pills deserve full credit for invigorating the spirit of blues rock without treading overly familiar ground. This is not merely the sound of young artists delving through a vintage record collection, but the sound of a band rediscovering the ragged, passionate spirit of a genre when it was at its most fresh and exciting.
Holy Moly! is out now via Nuclear Blast and can be purchased here.
Words: George Parr