The Holy Fire
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The Holy Fire


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The best kept secret in music


"Legendary front man lights another Holy Fire"

There was once a time in my life when keeping tabs on Detroit’s rock elite meant everything to me. Just knowing who played with whom, which musicians from which band started a new project or how a musician’s sound evolved with each successive band were issues to be studied at length. After a while, though, it starts to fade. Band members start getting old, people quit playing music or they just stop inspiring you.

With Sean Hoen of the Holy Fire, we have a case in which the subject turned everything anyone ever thought of him upside down and shook until it made brains rattle. The history alone would make someone interested in following up on him. Reaching near-legendary status in the late ‘90s as the leader of Thoughts of Ionesco, Hoen screamed and pounded his way into the forefront of the hardcore movement, only to seemingly forsake it all for a more subdued approach.

Thoughts of Ionesco broke up in 1999 and Hoen started Leaving Rouge, a band with a considerably quieter sound and softer themes. "With Ionesco, we were hell bent on being the heaviest, most insane thing that we could possibly fathom at age 19," he says, "but when you’re done with that, you realize that heavy isn’t just screaming and beating your guitars. After discovering artists like Nick Drake, you realize that it’s even heavier than drop D guitars, so [Leaving Rouge] was more a manic reaction to what I was doing before."

Five years after trying a little tenderness, however, we see him splitting the difference between Thoughts of Ionesco and Leaving Rouge. His newest project, the Holy Fire, reunites him with Thoughts of Ionesco bassist Nathan Miller, who rounds out the project along with drummer Nick Marko and guitarist Ryan Wilson.

Having played together for just a few months, the band seems to have crystallized into a cohesive unit that’s already getting exactly what it wants out of playing music. "With a lot of bands, they’re kind of stylized, like they’ll be doing a punk thing or an emo thing or a singer/songwriter thing," Hoen explains. "We kind of run the gamut as far as our interests go, and it seems like it would be hard to conceive of what we all want to do, but it’s all happening naturally and I can hear all kinds of things going on and I’ve always wanted that."

I met up with the guys in the Holy Fire after one of their typical five-hour marathon practices. What to me is a feat of unbelievable stamina is routine for them, and Hoen’s sentiment of finally being in the ideal situation is echoed throughout the band. "People wait for a magical musical moment to happen, but it really comes down to playing for hours and hours and finally getting something done," Marko points out. "Then you can evaluate it, but for us it’s just about playing any chance that we get. At this point there’s nothing else that we want to do."

The need to constantly play music doesn’t only extend from the idea that practice makes perfect, but also from the fact that these four individuals have a burning passion for this music and a love of playing together -- something that is evident in their live show. What once came across as an effort to intimidate the audience into paying attention, then transformed into a seeming indifference as to whether the audience was even watching, has turned into bursts of musicality and passion, driven from the knowledge that it will translate well into performance.

Sometimes the intensity builds to a frantic guitar breakdown. Sometimes it builds to a scream from the bottom of Hoen’s gut. And even though he has long since been demystified as being an unpredictably edgy performer, Hoen seems confident that those who remember are not disappointed with the new approach. "I think people just like seeing me and Nathan playing our guitars again and shaking our asses," he says.

Jokes aside, what we get from the music is an apparent desperation. Perhaps this could be attributed to the feeling that time is a factor in the careers of these four young men -- a feeling not felt by them when they were in their late teens or early 20s. "There’s a romance to these times. When you’re in your mid-20s, there’s an awareness of what people have achieved at this age, and we know that we feel the passion and vitality right now," Hoen says. Miller then sums it all up: "This is definitely what I’ve felt the ideal band would be for me. After this, I’ll probably play in a wedding band or be a dad -- one of the two."

But from desperation we get hope, and not only the hope that this band succeeds. It is the hope that translates into the songs and the hope that listeners get when they are inspired by a great work. It is through this hope that another is wished: the hope that Miller has to delay those future plans for a long time to come.

-By FABIAN HALABOU (5/26/2004) - Lansing City Pulse


"Hands down this EP redefines what a rock band from Detroit should sound like. These guys toss out the garage revival and burn the trashcan with their ability to blend original rock riffs and a dark pop influence."
- Real Detroit Weekly

"Record Review"

The Holy Fire’s recently re-released self-titled EP is one of those oddball discs that beings a ton of bands to mind without actually sounding like a rip-off of any of them. The band pulls an awful lot of depth and layers out of a simple four-person line up (two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals), especially considering the fact that the songs here are nothing more fancy than three-minute rockers.

The band’s songs are indeed well-structured, though the urgency of singer/guitarist Sean Hoen’s voice often drives the songs to garner a progressively more urgent sentiment as they unfold. The very best thing about The Holy Fire is that these guys are able to put together sounds that create moods and atmospheres that are as important as the song structures themselves (a la The Cure and My Bloody Valentine). There are subtle inferences to so many bands within this EP that even the very first listen of the disc can feel like reuniting with an old familiar friend.

The first minute or so of verse riffing in “Lift Off Message” opens like an ode to Queens of the Stone Age, though the chorus veers off in a more spacey direction; the song eventually winds up on more of a shoegazing bent than anything else. “In Signs” is one of the disc’s biggest standouts – a sublimely intense track with stuttering drumming and rhythm guitars just fuzzy enough to give the song an exciting, dirty sound. The lyrically caustic “Sleeping, Screaming Boy” (“Do you need anyone to scream you to sleep anymore?”) is a refreshing track, meshing dark vibes with surprisingly catchy stop-and-go rhythm guitars that back a sing-along chorus.

The band shows a dreamy, more ethereal side on “I Heard Your Song,” as the guitars ring out in delicate goodness for the first half of the track; the song slowly emotionally crescendos, though, peaking with Hoen’s announcement of, “I thought I heard your song when I was falling apart.” The guitars on “Outside the Mercury” sound like spaced out Paul Westerberg riffs, which appropriately segues into the lush, intense instrumental closing of “Lehman’s Lament.”

There’s a surprising amount of good stuff packed into these six songs, as The Holy Fire seems to have drawn inspiration from The Afghan Whigs, The Replacements, My Bloody Valentine, and The Cure (amongst others) to create a truly epic-sounding EP. If this recording is any indication of the future, than The Holy Fire’s forthcoming 2005 full-length release should be album-of-the-year quality. Recommended to the highest degree.

- Gary Blackwell, 1/20/2005 - Delusions of Adequacy

"Show Preview"

Who/Where: The Holy Fire; Detroit (well, Dearborn).

Backstory: Like high school chicks drunk off wine coolers and giggling about The Killers, singer/guitarist Sean Hoen, drummer Nick Marco, bassist Nathan Miller and guitarist Ryan Wilson formed the Holy Fire out of an equal admiration for whiskey, the Pixies and the things that make your soul ache.

Why you should give a shit: Because, frankly, they don’t. After years spent stinking up vans in ear-twisting hardcore groups, Hoen and his holy henchmen ditched the noise — and the scene that went with it — for the sweet sweet melody.

The killer quote: “The Holy Fire collectively has more scar tissue and psycho-sexual damage than most bands’ entire management firm and we intend to sublimate our problems into beautific and enthralling rock that in no way requires a club party remix or moshing,” Hoen says. “We also have a new song called ‘Henry Ford: The Mask of Satan.’”

On Record: The Holy Fire EP on Down Peninsula. An upcoming, full-length is scheduled for summer, produced by the Flaming Lips’ Michael Ivins (label TBA, but label interest is blooming).

The DJ spike: In between Afghan Whigs murder epics and Jeff Buckley melodrama. They might have you clamoring to dip Pearl Jam’s Versus to your iPod before hawking it at the local trade counter for beer cash. - Detroit Metrotimes

"Record Review"

From the moment the tip of the drumstick touched the head of the snare it had me. The opening drum beat alone of The Holy Fire’s debut self-titled EP was enough to catch my interest and that is when everything else joins in. From this opening drum track to the feedback that closes out this stellar display of musical arrangements, my mind underwent paralysis and my body began to gyrate and limbs began to move in an almost unstoppable but uncontested manner.

“Lift Off Message” is the dynamic opener that begins with the aforementioned drum track and intermixing of neurotic guitar lines and flowing bass fills. The Holy Fire takes us on a trip back into the '80s for influence but incorporates elements of late '90s into 2000 math rock, and indie power pop. Continually flavored with all of these elements throughout the six gems on this album, this album should not fail to get fans of interesting and innovative music giving it multiple listens as well as gaining fans in the standard pop markets to boot.

While vocals grace five of the six tracks here there always seems to be a strict and heavy focus on the musical and technical side of things throughout. The guitar lines continue to be both intricate and intoxicating throughout, under laid by dance floor drum beats and smooth bass tracks. Dual guitar action fills the songs with a sense of tension that works so well you may find your self entranced in the patterns they produce in your head. Math elements strewn all throughout keep things on edge and never find these songs in an all too familiar rut. Change ups occur often enough but never take away from the direction the song is moving in. Which many times happens in math influenced bands.

The vocals are not to be just tossed aside like in some heavy bands; here they are an integral part of the formula that makes up the first five tracks. In fact, they may get you singing along, in some classic rock fashion. In fact, in some songs where vocals would take away from everything going on here they are the perfect compliment, keeping the ever soaring guitar lines somewhat grounded... or at least on a kite string. Perhaps the best example of this is the spastic second track “In Signs”, which is a three minute example of how to produce a near perfect innovative pop rock song.

While it may not leave you breathless, and asking what just hit you, it should make you sweat regardless. With a divine start like this we can only hope for bigger and better things from a full length. Hopefully, The Holy Fire plans on sticking around for a while to come and gracing all of our ears with sonic displays like this one. Indeed.

-Jared Thompson
5.8.04 - Cloak and Dagger Media


5/10/05 - The Holy Fire (S/T EP) (Down Peninsula Audio)
2/21/06 - In the Name of the World (EP) (The Militia Group)


Feeling a bit camera shy


The Holy Fire began in early 2004 after a studio project that turned out better than planned (and also birthed the band’s self-titled EP, recorded in Toronto in late 2003). Singer/guitarist Sean Hoen had known drummer Nick Marko as a fellow Pixies and Husker Dü fan after years of late night conversations in Detroit dive bars. Bassist Nathan Miller, Hoen’s compatriot in the frighteningly fucked-up Thoughts of Ionesco soon got involved along with their friend, art enthusiast/guitarist Ryan Wilson. “That was when the band formed and we had some kind of desperate telepathy and approached songs the same way. Everyone also wanted to rock, which I had pretty much given up on,” says Hoen of the lineup’s formation.

In 2004, the Toronto recording sessions were released as a self-titled EP that included the plodding and punchy “Lift Off Message” and five other gritty blasts of Afghan Whigs-meets-the Replacements-meets-My Bloody Valentine-influenced noise. Punk Planet called the EP “thoroughly impressive” while Real Detroit Weekly wrote “hands down this EP redefines what a rock band from Detroit should sound like.”

In April 2004, the band booked their first show, opening for TV on the Radio at the Magic Stick in Detroit. Playing to over 300 people, the combination of intensity and passion that they already attached to their fledgling songs made it easy for the band to plug in and play with their hearts sewn blood-filled on their black short sleeves.

Hoen describes the band’s chemistry, saying, “Ryan brings the color, flamboyance and sprawling, pretty spaciousness. Nick gives everything a primal, very physical sort of passion. He plays hard even when he is sitting back and also has a really good sense of creating things out of improvs; he’s a very emotional drummer. I think I bring the imagery and hooks and structural bases of the songs as well as a taste of paranoia. Nathan is kind of the sonic and emotional glue.”

In January, 2006, The Holy Fire signed with indie label The Militia Group. A second EP will be released on February 21, 2006 and is produced by Flaming Lips bass player Michael Ivins. A full-length and national tour will come later in the year.