Swedish post-punk outfit Holograms' self-titled 2012 debut was icy and severe, pulling no punches when it came to the band's chilly world-view or most immediate reference points. Healthy doses of Factory Records sheen were applied to songs that were strong in their own right, but the influence was immediately noticeable, especially on some of the more Joy Division-borrowing tracks. After a year or so of constant touring, the bandmembers ended up back in their working-class towns on the outskirts of Stockholm, feeling all of the isolation and disillusionment that inspired their first set of songs. Forever takes a deeper look into these harsh feelings, losing none of Holograms' youthful energy, but turning the darkness inward and expanding their sound somewhat. The scrappiness in the earlier recordings that pushed some songs into an almost garage rock aesthetic is completely gone, replaced by a sullen airiness. Singer Anton Spetze's formerly blunt vocals are now cloaked in reverb and delay, recalling the moment in the Cure's early history when they turned away from pop structures and embraced formless, gothy dread. The parallels to Seventeen Seconds-era Cure or even early Siouxsie and the Banshees or Bauhaus come through both in Spetze's vocals and the increasingly subtle use of synthesizers. Several tracks finds synths used as moody bedding rather than a lead instrument, employed to especially moving effect on the chorus of "Ättestupa," as low-key synths weep silently as a foil to Spetze's repeated exhausted howls of "I'm so tired!" Holograms' more deliberate songwriting on this track and other hook-heavy standouts like "Flesh and Bone" gives the sense they were evolving away from a known template into something more their own, much like their predecessors the Cure made in the previously mentioned transition, or even Joy Division's dramatic leap from the punk edges of Unknown Pleasures to Closer's unshakable churning darkness. Huge anthemic choruses on "Luminous" and "A Blaze on the Hillside" keep the momentum, and noisier moments of grating guitar shred keep the band in the same tier of 2010s gothy punk peers as Ice Age. Final track "Lay Us Down" combines many of the elements that pop up throughout the album and sounds much like a closing statement. Its plodding pace, deliberate clouds of atmospheric reverb, and chorus as jubilant as Holograms can muster seem to communicate a band aware of its own growth. The songs are emphatic, even at their darkest and most shadowy, and the inspiration comes through even more strikingly with repeat listens. Not so much a grower as a slow-burning future classic, Forever points to even more exciting things from Holograms as they continue to challenge themselves and expand their vision.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas