A Different Vampire Story
John Darr | Thursday, August 28, 2014
At the heart of Trophy Scars’ mind-blowing new record “Holy Vacants” is a couple of vampires who are just beginning to glimpse the answers to such questions. Instead of seeing them falling in love or fighting some ancient war like so many fan fiction narratives popping up these days, we peer into the vampires’ lives much farther down the road. The love between the two protagonists of “Holy Vacants” is strained, tainted by the angel blood they’ve been drinking to stay alive and weathered by the ages they’ve spent together. The violence and freedom of their eternal lives have eroded into despair and nostalgia for their lost mental youth. A propulsive story, incredible lyricism and excellent songwriting make “Holy Vacants”a top contender for best album of 2014.
The story of “Holy Vacants” is carried by an exquisitely-crafted fusion of hard rock, blues and gospel. Trophy Scars’ older records fall more into the category of hardcore rock, and the instrumental chops which gave them legitimacy in that genre, shine on their new record. Electric guitars and bass rumble and explode throughout the record, alternately ripping monstrous riffs and howling soulful notes. The drums crash and rumble as needed, providing a strong backbone for the rest of the ensemble. Finally, the vocals of John Ferrara flash from harsh growl to intimidating snarl to sensual croon to maximize the power of the album’s narrative. Accompanying Ferrara’s vocals is an angelic female choir, bringing a much-welcome brightness to the group’s brand of heavy blues.
With all of the right instrumental ingredients in place, Trophy Scars is able to wring the full potential out of every track on the album. Opener “Extant” alternates between scandalously sexy guitar riffs and Ferrara’s narrative scene-setting, allowing both the musical and lyrical elements to shine as one. “Qeres” opens with a wicked guitar solo before careening into full-blown stomp-gospel, with Ferrara’s voice grinding up against a soaring female choir in the background. “Archangel” is full-on blues, complete with an organ and a back-and-forth vocal chorus, and “Burning Mirror” nears metal territory with relentless guitar, pummelling drums and shifting time signatures. Throughout “Holy Vacants,” Trophy Scars changes up song structures in order to keep their uniformly, unbridled sound fresh.
Given the amount of musical mayhem Trophy Scars cause, it’s quite amazing that their vocals end up as one of the most impactful elements of their music. The story behind “Holy Vacants” is compelling enough to keep a listener’s attention, and yet it is made even more captivating through vivid imagery and fresh phrasing. “Holy Vacants” has more than its fair share of brilliant lines, from its bait-and-switch opening: “At 6:00 AM I was counting large stacks of cash — you were feasting on the body of an angel in a taxi cab,” to the relationship-encapsulating “You are not alone, you’re just lonely sometimes” on the penultimate track. The rich emotions and thoughts of the record’s characters are captured beautiful; “To my display you speak the truth but only when you want me for yourself” and “We laughed for hours until we went silent and we knew what we did” are some particularly sharp highlights.
Unfortunately, there are too many peak moments to capture here in a mere music review and do “Holy Vacants” justice. It truly is a work of art, which stands out as one of 2014’s most impressive accomplishments. Through a fresh take on blues-rock and on the ever-so-hip vampire narrative, Trophy Scars has managed to craft a compelling piece in genres which have threatened to grow stale. “Holy Vacants” is as close to an instant classic as rock has seen in years. Don’t wait an eternity to proclaim it one yourself.