Holy Grail, Crisis In Utopia
When the Age of the Guitar Gods died, back in the mid-’90s, I wasn’t all that sad about it. I’ve always only been a mediocre guitarist myself, so I selfishly embraced the Cobain-/Mudhoney-ian ethos of just pounding the fuck out of your guitar, when that came along and hammered in the nails of the guitar wizards’ collective coffin, feeling better about my own lame-ass skills and glad the focus was finally off of folks like Yngwie Malmsteen and Nuno Bettencourt.
Fast-forwarding to the present, however, and it’s pretty obvious that not everybody went through the same anti-guitar-wankery shift I did. Or, at least, they’ve decided to ignore the whole grunge period of our shared musical history and stepped a bit further backwards for inspiration.
That feels like what’s going on on Holy Grail’s Crisis In Utopia — despite the fact that these five fresh-faced, half-mustachioed dudes look like they probably weren’t even in middle school back when yours truly made his “break” with over-the-top guitar metal, they’ve apparently taken all those old-school metal bands, dumped them into a furnace, melted them down, and forged the resulting amalgam into (what else?) a bright-shining, razor-edged sword, which they then raise high to vanquish the enemy.
And it’s quite a thing to behold. On Crisis, Holy Grail blends Metallica-/Slayer-style thrash guitar chugging, nimble-fingered, Steve Vai-ian guitar acrobatics (sounding a bit like labelmates Scale The Summit in the process), high-flying, Judas Priest-ly twinned-guitar riffs, subtle prog-metal touches (like the nice crushing/”beeping” bit near the end of the title track), and thundering, Mastodon-like rhythms.
Right in the middle, there’s “Nocturne in D Minor,” a gorgeously sweet, delicate instrumental piece that blends fingerpicked Celtic folk (including flutes, for crying out loud) with classical structures. It would sound more apt wafting gently through the air at a Renaissance Festival somewhere, but it works here, too, serving as a nice breath-catching moment midway through Crisis.
Over it all, singer James Paul Luna shifts effortlessly between a menacing, street-level growl — which, weirdly enough, makes me think of Leatherwolf for the first time in about a decade — and more epic, Dio-esque wails, dancing across each track against a backdrop of multitracked gang vocals. (And yes, the three-name thing itself feels pretty damn apt: Ronnie James Dio == James Paul Luna?)
At the end of the day, I’m reminded quite a bit of contemporaries Avenged Sevenfold, particularly that band’s City Of Evil; both bands come off as genuine metalheads, not aiming for a pose but instead trying to take the music they really and truly love and drag it forward into the current century. Not that there’s a ton of invention going on here lyrics-wise, of course, with songs about running your sword through the enemy, hoping to be taken to Valhalla, and immortal beings, but sonically, this is fully rooted in modern metal production.
Fast, head-snapping opener “My Last Attack” is a definite high point, as are the lower-slung, slower “Call of Valhalla” and the proud, heroic-sounding “Chase The Wind”; I find myself drawn back to “Nocturne in D Minor,” as well. The album slows a bit after the halfway point, unfortunately, but it’s still pretty fiery, even then, surging back upwards for closer “Cherish Disdain,” with its waterfall-sounding guitars, fearless use of organs and synths, and fight-for-yourself message.
Throughout the album, Holy Grail throws plenty of sparks, enough to keep you banging your head and throwing the horns up to the sky like you’re still a wild, don’t-give-a-fuck kid ready to fight the world.