Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Album Review: Holy Grail - Times Of Pride And Peril

It was only a few years ago that there was a group of bands that hit the scene at just about the same time, all promising to restore the glory of 80s metal to a jaded audience. They tried to make records that were as fist-pumping and fun as the classics, modern heavy metal that didn't skimp on the reasons why metal became a phenomenon way back when. The problem was that, while those bands had good intentions, they weren't well-versed in how to write a good song, and they couldn't stay together. Most of those bands have either closed up shop already, or gone through enough changes that they are mere bit players on the stage. Holy Grail might be the biggest survivor of the bunch, as they hit us with their new album.

"Crystal King" kicks things off with shredding guitars, a frantic Maiden styled gallop, and vocals that try to shatter glass. It's an aggressive opening, but the band displays admirable restraint by pulling back and slowing the chorus down. The verses sound better for being the fastest parts, the chorus heavier for its more deliberate pacing, and the vocals can ratchet down to a place where the rest of us could consider singing along. It's good stuff.

The next track, "Waste Them All Away" has a main riff that sounds like a thrashy palm-muted neoclassical composition, which is utterly captivating. It's a really interesting spin on the format, and instantly makes the song more interesting than chugging out a low-string gallop. And when the song settles into a mid-tempo crunch, it has a nice hard rock swagger that simply works. Holy Grail has found a great balance here between being a raging metal monster, and writing catchy songs. Just listen to "Sudden Death", and you can hear this. The song is a pure thrash number through the verses, and then the chorus is a big hooky melody that spins the music right back into mass appeal. It's easy to say metal doesn't need to worry about songwriting, but when you hear it working, that becomes such an excuse for people who either can't or won't do it right.

What the record might lack in diversity, it makes up for in consistency. What you get at the start is what you get throughout; metal that marries melody and thrashy aggression. Normally, I would say that a record could use a bit more variation to keep things interesting, but "Times Of Pride And Peril" doesn't overstay its welcome, and I'm not sure how you would write anything softer that fits with the guitar approach on the album. There are some tempo changes, like the slower "Psychomanchia", which gives enough of a change of pace for this record.

One of the things I appreciate about this album is that it doesn't have highlights. That might sound like an odd compliment, but what I mean is that you can take any of these ten tracks, and they all exude a quality that makes them a kick to listen to. From front to back, this album keeps turning out songs that are rock solid examples of what Holy Grail is all about. Everything here is pure heavy metal, with great guitar tones, very good vocals, and a melody that should stick with you.

Overall, you can't go wrong listening to "Times Of Pride And Peril". Traditional melodic heavy metal might not be the hip thing anymore, but this is a good example of why it used to be, and why I think metal has in large part lost its way. While I wouldn't call this any sort of modern classic, it's a damn fine record that gives an old-school metal fan everything they could want. Holy Grail has done themselves proud with this one.

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