Holy Fawn and The Callous Daoboys at Oslo in Hackney

In the run up to the incredibly stacked ArcTangent festival, many bands playing decided to settle on our shores early and play a few shows for those saps unlucky enough to miss the party (and I include myself in those saps) – but two bands that I would imagine very few people expected to team up are The Callous Daoboys and Holy Fawn.

These are bands that are completely at odds on the musical spectrum, but very much at the top of their respective games – the former excels in intensity, bringing to the table some of the most innovative mathcore since The Dillinger Escape Plan. The latter band is a pillar of the emerging doomgaze style. Both bands are perfect for the Arctangent festival despite the differences, which says a lot about the broadness of that. But we’re not there tonight…

Tonight, we’re at Hackney’s humble Oslo venue, which has a similar diametric opposition. The cool, calm and collected vibes of the downstairs bar are immediately obliterated by the sweatbox of the upstairs venue space. “I’ve never sweat so much in your country,” Holy Fawn frontman and Arizona-based desert dweller Ryan Osterman quips in their set, and in my newly established liquid-based form I splashed along in agreement. 

The heat commentary doesn’t stop with Holy Fawn as the very first of The Callous Daoboys’ lyrics screamed at us is “I want my ice cream.” Here they have embraced the bold move of beginning their set with an album closer – Star Baby, from last year’s seminal Celebrity Therapist. Also worth a shout-out is their choice of walk-on music: the undisputed banger that is Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity. Indeed, a very apt title for the unhinged fare to come. 

We’re then treated to a vibrant mix of newer and older cuts – Violent Astrology sees guitarists Daniel Hodsdon and Maddie Caffrey pump out riff after riff while vocalist Carson Pace quickly takes ownership of the crowd not just in a strong vocal performance but in jabs towards Stoke-on-Trent and our incessant need to sing that part of Sweet Caroline. On the more musical side of proceedings however, Fake Dinosaur Bones is dragged forth as a particularly inspiring instance of his clean and harsh vocals at their absolute peak. 

Pace speedily springs to action in the event of bass-based technical difficulties, becoming perhaps the first mathcore vocalist to quiz an audience on their maths. When pressed, London’s highly educated audience struggled to name a number above eight. With the crowd adequately stalled by multiple mathematical musings, the bass throbs back into action and the set springs back into motion. 

Tracks like What Is Delicious? Who Swarms? and Blackberry DeLorean manage to highlight each and every member’s talents, but it’s the closer of the Daoboys’ all-too-brief set, A Brief Article Regarding Time Loops that has the audience ready to start all over again. 

The pit nearly doubles in size for this song, culminating in Pace providing us with perhaps the greatest moshpit invite of all time: “Let’s see how free your healthcare is.” The set dramatically comes to a close shortly thereafter, with the crowd clearly awed.

A brief rush for a cool beverage later and headliner Holy Fawn takes the stage. The floaty, ethereal guitars and the calm, considered drumming of opener Candy show that the vibe relative to the Daoboys could not be more different. The crushing riffs of Dark Stone are enough to immediately sell the band within a metal context, however, with Osterman’s sweet cleans and bitter harsh vocals gripping the venue. 

Then comes a cut from recent record Dimensional Bleed and a set highlight – Death is a Relief. The track’s gradual build is lifted by the warm guitar tones of Osterman and Evan Phelps, but also the temperature of the room, acting as an eerie accompaniment to the warmth of their sound. Among this, some strong fills and filling in by guest drummer Lorna Blundell of The Hyena Kill, whom the band graciously take time to shout out. 

Void of Light is perhaps the most potent example of Holy Fawn’s tension-and-release sound, with Osterman’s harsh vocals delivering a black metal viscerality. The relatively upbeat Yawning follows, with Candice Maritoto’s basslines driving the song as Osterman once again seamlessly switches from clean croons to harsh tunes. 

Part of his strength as a vocalist, and why those harsh vocals land so well, lies in his otherwise quiet and calm demeanour – he comes across as such an unassuming figure, and it’s awe-inspiring to see him project across the room like he does.

As Osterman discusses his surprise to see a crowd show up, an apparent rarity is pulled out of the Holy Fawn hat as the magical Glóandi lumbers through the set – a track not previously played in the UK by Osterman’s count. What follows is an emotional journey through Arrows in which the entire band shines through. 

The veritable catharsis of set closer Seer is the highlight though, with the crowd swaying along as the song continues to build in intensity and emotion. As it reaches its climax, the band throws every ounce of energy they have left into playing out the wall-of-sound built towards – as with every other heavier section of the set, this is an earned moment. Basking in the figurative warmth of the audience and the literal sweat the room had evoked, a thankful band retreats from the stage and the crowd is left to reflect on what they had seen. 

In hindsight, then, it’s clear why this unlikely pairing were in fact strong touring partners: both offer a masterclass in the art of tension and release, albeit in different ways. Both lyrically discuss the preservation of our world, whether it’s the value of nature or a more political bend. And most importantly within the context of this review, both gave fundamentally great performances at the Oslo in Hackney on August 16th 2023. What more could you ask for?

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