Holy Tide’s debut record Aquila reminds me a lot of Tech N9ne. Not musically, but in my reaction to the music. This April, a friend and I headed to Toronto to catch Aborted and Crpytopsy on tour. N9NA, Tech’s record from this year, had recently dropped. We listened on the way up and were, as always, happy and impressed with what Tech N9ne had brought to the table. But near the end of the record – maybe eighty to eighty-five percent through – we both felt we’d heard enough of what Tech had to offer. Yet there were more tracks, and they were all good. We couldn’t think of a song we’d remove from N9NA, as each song was good; but as an album, it felt too long.
Musically, Holy Tide sounds a lot like Pyramaze, specifically Immortal and Disciples of the Sun. Vocalist Fabio Caldeira reminds much more of Disciples’s Terje Haroy than the inimitable Matt Barlow, largely due to the lack of Barlow’s gruff edge. The main reason for the Pyramaze comparison, though, is the keyboards. Both Pyramaze and Holy Tide make heavy use of that once-maligned instrument, smartly toning down the guitars when the keyboard takes the lead and vice-versa. This makes an even-handed sound, one which relies on neither too extensively and doesn’t do the modern Dimmu Borgir thing where your actual band just plays root notes while a keyboard-based orchestra goes bonkers and writes the soundtrack to a new Pirates of the Caribbean film over top.
While it’s not Pirates, opening instrumental “Creation – The Divine Design” sets a cinematic tone. Rich, detailed, and gorgeous musically, it recalls later Blind Guardian with this introduction, specifically Beyond the Red Mirror. This creates high expectations for follow-up “Exodus” and, to my delight, they’re met. There’s a hint of Sonata Arctica at first, but by the time the chorus hits a lovely mixture of Immortal and Disciples emerges, carrying into the massive solo. It’s quite the production, and this ethos carries throughout Aquila. “Curse and Ecstasy” is likewise packed with hooky bombast, wisely using the full force of key-based orchestra and guitars simultaneously in the chorus, with bass taking a pleasantly surprising and active role. The saxophone solo at the end even works, being controlled and subtle in execution. “Lord of the Armies” is a bit like the best of Rise Against in its main riff and recalls Judicator’s “Raining Gold” in being a quick and effective power metal victory.
The problem here is alluded to above: there’s a bit too much of Aquila to go around. Generally, songs follow the “Exodus” format and aren’t afraid to build up to a big, bombastic chorus and throw a bridge and lead in the middle. This is welcome, and on its own each song is good, wholesome power metal. I’ll turn to beer to explain why more of a good thing can be a problem. I like La Fin Du Monde, a masterful beer with 9% alcohol content. If I’m handed a few over some hours, I’ll savor each sip and enjoy every minute. But if I’m continually fed seven of them over the course of an evening, I will eventually lose my taste for what made it special. I’ll be numb to its flavors and subtleties, and eventually experience it as mere beer. The obvious question is: why drink seven, then? I wouldn’t, but with Aquila I must to review the record. As each song develops in a similar manner – and this manner is uniformly good and effective – it’s easy to become numb to the bombast, to the hooks, to the whole shebang. It doesn’t make Aquila worse, it doesn’t make good songs bad, but experienced whole it’s easy to be numbed by all the good power metal that’s hitting your ears for nearly an hour.
Even with the above in view, I can happily recommend Aquila as a record and look forward to more output from Holy Tide. I must emphasize that Aquila creaking under its own immensity is not an issue with a decline in quality on Side B, a distaste for any song, or an issue with my patience. A great chef prepares an oversized meal of wonderful food, and the polite house guest will clean his plate. Clearing the plate Holy Tide has lovingly prepared means choking down the last few bites because you’re stuffed. No worse for the plate, or the considerable skill of the chef, but each song a la carte fares better than the score suggests.