My reach of international artists is admittedly lacking. I depend too much on simple word-of-mouth or media to show me who has broken continental barriers with their art, and as such, a lot gets lost in the shuffle for me. Regardless of that, I definitely did not expect my new favorite artsy progressive rock band to come from Trondheim, Norway. When I think Norway, I think – probably like many with a penchant for heavy, extreme music – of black- or viking metal. But it can’t all be ‘kvlt’, right? It’s ignorant to assume that these are the only musical exports of a country like Norway. Look at 80s new wave/pop rock outfit a-ha or, more recently, accomplished DJ and disco-house producer Todd Terje. Such is the case with holon, a sonic outlier not only within Norway, but perhaps the world at large.
holon (yes, all lowercase) is the solo project of British singer, songwriter and guitarist Ronny Pedersen, a man who looks about as stereotypically ‘metal’ as they come, but his music takes a much more calm, nuanced and thoughtful approach compared to his peers. Put simply: this is high-caliber prog rock with art rock, classic pop and Eastern world music stylings. For those curious, the word ‘holon’ is taken from books by author Ken Wilber, which Pedersen used to read. It is said to ‘describe something that is both a whole and a part. What can be used to describe roughly everything in this world because everything is made up of smaller parts and nothing is completely separate from the rest of the world‘ according to Wilber, by way of Pedersen in an interview with Terra Incognita, a French music magazine. One album currently exists under the holon moniker, The Time is Always Now.
The lyrics tell stories of, and relating to, people finding purpose, clarity and understanding in this wide world. Discovery can be a beautiful, momentous thing in someone’s life, for better or worse. holon‘s music muses wonderfully on the topic. Pedersen’s interest in spirituality, particularly Buddhism, provides vivid shades of color in each song. In the album opener, “The Belly of Being”, he is quick to state the driving philosophical questions of his art: ‘Who are we?/Where are we?/Welcome to a soul safari/What are we?/Why are we?/Are we playing an untold story?‘ You can practically feel safety restraints wrap around you as you listen, preparing you for a veritable journey of the mind.
The trip itself is just as fulfilling as any destination you can glean from the music. The tracks are multifaceted and varied, no song sounding quite like another. This album is the culmination of ten years of writing, producing, and tweaking, involving various guest musicians and singers, including Pedersen himself and producer Rhys Marsh. As such, The Time is Always Now sounds like it has been vetted, curated and otherwise groomed to near-perfection. Clocking in at over an hour, this is territory where some listeners might struggle to stay attentive throughout the total playtime, but I assert that this is no struggle or chore. holon know what they are doing, having crafted a finely-tuned album.
One of the highlights is a track called “Time to Go”, a ten-minute opus and perfect example of holon‘s masterfully varied sound and far-reaching emulation of influences. What starts as a pensive rock ballad swells into a classically-tuned progressive arrangement, complete with a hammond organ lead(!) that’s 70s prog worship at its finest. The pacing and movement throughout the track gives the listener a feeling of transcendence. This isn’t the only song that has this quality to it, seeing as this album is all loosely tied together by concepts of finding one’s self and the spiritual journey embarked upon to achieve that goal. Several moments on this album feel enlightening and transformative, both sonically and thematically. Pedersen started playing around with music at the young age of twelve, and after 25 years, we finally see the fruits of those decades of self-taught musicianship, honed songwriting and artistic skill in the form of The Time is Always Now.
I’ll level with you and admit that I only heard holon days before this article was published. It takes a special kind of artist to rouse this brand of motivation from me; that alone should be testament enough to the band’s artistry and impact. The beauty of their music is fluid and dynamic, akin to a dance performance. Sitars, flutes, guitars, drums and a myriad of (criminally underrated) voices paint a soundscape for the soul, mind and heart. I feel like if I said anymore, I would be spoiling moments for potential listeners. I’ll leave it to the man himself, Ronny Pedersen, to close this out:
‘This is the kind of music I try to make myself – music that can satisfy the heart and both halves of the brain. I try to bring with me what I like in the music I have heard throughout my life when I create my own music – and this happens on both a conscious and subconscious level. I guess the sum of this eclectic mix of influences and genres is the product of my musical life up until now and makes my unique musical fingerprint in this world. Please have a listen! All I can hope for is that it touches you in some way!‘