Holy Grail // Ride the Void
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Whippersnappers doin’ it right.
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU | US]
Websites: facebook.com/holygrailofficial | holygrailofficial.com
Release Dates: JPN: 2013.01.16 | EU: 2013.01.18 | NA: 01.22.2013
Holy Grail is one of these new-wave, big-named bands that got picked up by Nuclear Blast in the last couple of years that I had never really bothered to check out. Mostly my apathy can be blamed on crankiness ’cause I’m old. But their specific brand of nod-to-the-old-school power metal with a modern edge seems to perfectly encapsulate a lot of what’s going on in the metal scene these days, and their 2010 release Crisis in Utopia was met with generally positive responses. Still, I somehow managed to ignore these guys when they dropped their first record and given all the chatter I figured I’d make up for that by giving Ride the Void a go.
Pleasant surprise describes my reaction pretty well. Holy Grail plays a type of heavy metal that is remarkably nostalgic while not just sounding like Saxon‘s leftover scraps being recorded in a better studio. There’s a sweet blending here of old school heavy metal in all its glory: catchy melodies; copious gallop; copiously copious guitar soloing; and the tropes you know and love so well. And really, the songwriting here is really good: counterpoint guitar riffs like from “Bleeding Stone” are built upon with huge choruses like in “Ride the Void” and “Sleep of Virtue” (and like, every other song, man). These tracks make use of the racy pace of speed metal while sweetening it with the myriad Iron Maiden and Helloween references.
But what weirds me out the most about this record is that there’s a strange progressive rock undertone that I didn’t expect to hear at all. I suspect it’s that vocalist James-Paul Luna is vocally the spitting image of Joey Eppard from Three, matching his sort of post-punk rock tone, while using his range to rock these seriously metal tracks. Opening track “Archeus” shows this off perfectly, starting out with a slow, progressive piece and then slowly merging into straight up Yngwie sweeps at the end of the song girded by Luna’s mod-prog harmonies… only to give way to Dragonforce speed and guitar nerdery on “Bestia Triumphans”. On title track “Ride the Void” there’s a Queen influenced harmony choir as well, but his tone is more Coheed than Freddie Mercury. This merging of the modern – Dragonforce and Three – with the traditional — Iron Maiden (and a heavy dose of German Rage) and Queen — with even the occasional nod to death metal makes Holy Grail surprisingly unique in a drearily uninteresting (some might even say “samey”; but they’d get fired) power metal scene.
But Ride the Void ain’t perfect. It suffers from two major problems: first, like most classic sophomore slump kind of records, the writing here doesn’t always strike home as hard as it could. Particularly on the trailing end of Ride the Void the songs just seem to kind of fade into one another, not feeling particularly distinct. But this could also have been a side-effect that this batch of 13 songs runs about 55 minutes or as we say it in Angry Metal Land™: it’s too damned long. The key to a band like Holy Grail is that they jump out of the bushes, pummel you with their best shit and then hit the road before you’ve had time to recover. This record at 40 minutes (or 35) is non-stop spins, while at 53 minutes it’s a skipped track here, a skipped track there and a decreasing count total in iTunes the further one comes into the album.
Still, this record is hardly slouch material! These guys have great game, amazing players and have produced a tight-as-hell sophomore release in Ride the Void. The record is lyrically less cheesy than the debut, even if it lacks some of the straight up energy that a brand-spankin’-new band always has. And what makes me think that Holy Grail could have staying power is the fact that they can do something that is old school and “nothing new” in a way that doesn’t feel anachronistic (check the song “Crosswinds” for a great example of these guys rocking serious tropes with style). Sick players, upwards of good writers and a bright future ahead of them Holy Grail is great, and still has room for improvement.