Unholy is the second release from Martin Grech, following a debut album (Open Heart Zoo) which came to some sort of prominence riding on the artistic-integrity smearing back of a car advert featuring one of his songs. Since then, things seem to have got darker.
Pretty much the only thing you can see this record soundtracking is purgatory. It isn’t an easy listen, and it’s often not particularly likeable, but it does demand attention, an attention cloaked in hushed reverence. For that it deserves respect – it’s a record which steadfastly refuses to compromise its ambitions or goals for the sake of the bottom line.
That isn’t to say there aren’t moments of real talent contained within its gothic walls. Grech has a voice that can range from a falsetto simper to a full-blooded scream, often in the same song, and the arrangements are painstakingly constructed. The industrial soundscapes and unsettling strings of Guiltless are particularly reminiscent of the kind of thing Trent Reznor would drive himself to rehab slaving over.
Grech has said that one of the main influences on the recording of the album was the idea that all of his experiences could be categorised into three groups: sensual, holy and debauched. Although judging from the overriding mood on Unholy of the tracks it would seem that Grech has had far more of the latter two.
The apocalyptic monologue of Erosion + Regeneration, continuing a descent into fiery doom started by GYBE! on the Dead Flag Blues, the epic Holy Father Inferior, complete with thousands of hooded monks praying for repentance, or what sounds like it, and the unhinged I Am Chromosome are all disturbing, unsettling pieces of work.
But, as any Catholic will tell you, relentless gloom can get, well, a little gloomy. Our progress towards a hellish end may be unstoppable, but it’s not like we want that pointed out. While a speck of light, a hint at possible retribution would be nice, the lighter tracks that would, in an ideal world, provide this contrast just aren’t compelling: Lint dances along on a feather-lite, almost Bjork-esque melody without sounding anything more than directionless doodling and Sun is an uninteresting acoustic strum.
Like it or loathe it, Unholy is like the work of the people that Grech has cited (the artist H.R Giger, the photographer Joel Peter Wilkin); striking, off-putting, occasionally weird but uniquely his. And to continue with the religious theme the seems to seep from every pore of this album, Unholy seems like confession. Not something you enjoy doing, but something that feels better for having embraced.