without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
In the spirit of that wonderful new movie Kick-Ass that came out recently, I decided to get into the spirit and review something that combined both of my two passions – superheroes and heavy metal, past and present – into one…odious, festering package.
Just when I thought metal couldn’t possibly get any lamer, we get a bunch of fruitcakes dressed up in colorful spandex prancing around with distorted instruments and growly vocals singing about some made up superhero mythology where they have to, uh, steal the holy grail (yeah…) from, uh, a ripoff of Skeletor from He-Man...while a guy in a horse costume passes out beer to their live audience…yeah, are you sure you didn’t just spike my drink with hallucinogenic substances again? No, apparently that IS the real story behind this band, as they figured people would just eat this shit up even despite the fact that the music is just about the most safe, bland, inoffensive music that could ever possibly be called “metal.”
Be honest here. Do you really find this kind of aesthetic gimmick appealing? I know it’s amusing at first, but let’s talk like rational human beings; would you in all honesty pay to see grown men running around in costumes that even third graders would be embarrassed to wear to Halloween parties? Because unless they’re going to make up for that by playing the most fucking unbelievable music I’ve ever heard, it sounds like a huge ripoff to me, and like nothing I would really want to be a part of. I lost enough of my dignity reviewing X World/5 a few weeks ago, thank you very much.
I know the whole idea is “fun,” and that I should give it some leeway for being lighthearted or goofy or whatever, and that I probably have no sense of humor if I don’t find this amusing, but…really, what’s the point? It would be one thing if they matched their over the top image with even more over the top music, but it’s exactly the opposite: this is really, really tame and uninteresting. It’s just about the dictionary definition of those terms. It’s basically another game of how many riffs can we steal from Iron Maiden and still pretend to be dignified? The answer is…56,782. Roughly. It’s melodeath with no creativity or originality at all. When they are not channeling Iron Maiden, they’re channeling Ensiferum, who I have never really liked that much. It’s practically an endless cycle of boredom. The riffs never cook up any semblance of a pulse. They are played with no fire or urgency to them, only a very sterile kind of plodding that makes me want to fall asleep. How can they do this to Maiden harmonies? Is it really that difficult to…uh, just write songs that sound good and powerful?
I…I seriously can’t articulate it any better. It’s about nothing more than simply writing good songs. This band seems to have a chronic inability to do this, for some reason or another. Every once in a while they do some riffing that sounds halfway decent, or clean vocals that are alright, but then it’s just back to lifeless croaking and fluttery, baseless melodies heading towards a hard, cold dead end zone. Songs will start out OK and then you think, alright, maybe this isn’t that bad…but by the end of the song you are bored out of your mind again. Nothing sticks. It’s as substanceless and bland as music comes. Candy metal as sweet and saccharine and unhealthy as it gets.
These melodies are just so dry and restrained. They’re lazy, is what they are. Listen to a track like “When Good Turns Evil” or “Grailquest Gladiators;” these melodies are so enervated that you could probably play them to a group of conservative Christian grandmas and they wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. They are slow, they are wimpy and they are simplistic as hell, and without any kind of stirring power. And if that wasn’t enough, they also throw in shit like that awful annoying “war chant” on “White Raven” – pass me the barf bag. “In for the Kill” also manages to have a really, really grotesque hook that just manages to irritate. And the whole thing still has that godawful feigned seriousness about it, like the band is attempting to be an intellectual group of tights-wearing 30 year olds. Excuse me while I laugh, laugh hard enough to spit out my liver!
While I’m at it, this isn’t even a good gimmick. I mean…the Holy Grail? A He-Man villain as your antagonist? Even the costumes could be more goofy and over the top. Come on, guys; don’t tell me this was the absolute best you could do. It can’t have taken more than five minutes to come up with; this half-cocked aping of already established franchises. You might as well just drop everything and start making metal themed on Monty Python sketches instead. In fact, I’d like that a lot better! At least then they’d actually be taking some direction to a fuller potential. Better than this bunch of half assed crap.
Here’s a message to everyone out there aspiring to become a musician: Don’t play Gothenburg style melodeath. And if you really want to, at least try and make something…original and interesting. Basically, what it comes down to is, try and actually WRITE ENTERTAINING SONGS instead of just leaning on a cheap-shit gimmick to make people think you’re “lovably quirky” or whatever it is people like about this group of butt-clenching mongrels they call Grailknights. What nonsense this is. I’d be a lot more forgiving of this stuff if the band actually put effort into making really good music like they do with making asses of themselves on stage, but they don’t. So back to the $3 bargain bin with you, Alliance! Goddamn, what a stupid album.
Until I saw them onstage supporting Sabaton late last year, Grailknights were a band I hadn't even heard of. Surprising, considering their wacky, larger-than-life image (those Germans...) that they seem to have avoided any serious media coverage so far. To say their live show - 4 grown men in colour-coded superhero costumes fighting off stagehands in rubber skull masks while a pantomime horse hands out tins of beer to the audience - left an impression on me would be an understatement, and while the display they put on was pure entertainment, threatening even to upstage their Swedish hosts, I was keen to make sure that in the sobering light of day their melodic death/power metal combo held up to their image.
This 3rd CD, 'Alliance', does indeed match expectations, and the music is actually presented on its own terms and with a completely straight face. In fact, if a listener were to be presented with the CD with no prior knowledge of the band, their ridiculous appearance would most likely come as a surprise. A bit of comedy in heavy metal is always welcome of course, but bands like Edguy and Trollfest – for 2 quick examples – need to realize that letting it spill over from the image and lyrics and seep into the music itself is more often than not to the detriment of a CD.
Another thing that makes itself clear quite early on is that for occupying a niche that has had quite a hefty population of late, Grailknights have actually hit on something fairly unique. Not the Children of Bodom approach the term 'melodic death/power' usually brings to mind, they play a far grander, more epic style that brings in a few folk elements from time to time, and indeed the best quick description I can find is of a less folky Ensiferum. "White raven" is the song which sounds most like the Finnish titans, with some accordion assistance and a bigger clean vocal presence (actually more reminiscent of Turisas' Warlord Nygard) than usual contributing to what might just be the best song on 'Alliance'.
The varied mixing up of vocal styles is one of Grailknights' biggest pulls, with the songs frequently jumping between differing harsh and melodic tones. Bassist Mac Death (groan) deals in low-frequency death growls, while the higher-pitched harsh vocals and lead clean vocals are dealt with by guitarist Sir Optimus Prime (groan groan). Most of the songs also feature the 2 singing along with 2nd guitarist Lord Lightbringer (groan groan groan) in choir formation, and the extra variety this brings further accents the differing approaches they take to their individual songs.
The heavy riffing and pounding drums in the verses of the opener "Nameless grave" perfectly suit the guttural growls of the bass player, while the energetic melodic lead playing of "In for the kill" is quite reminiscent of the later, more power metal work from the Dragonforce progenitor Demoniac. More restrained offerings include the gentle ballad "Tranquillity's embrace", which again walks the same streets as Ensiferum, and the meandering, German-sung closer "Der konig von thule". "Grailquest gladiators" is another stellar offering, with a simply compulsory chorus dominating the song, culminating in a broken-down drums-and-choir section that ensures it stays in the mind long after the CD has stopped spinning.
All the ingredients in the end come together to fashion a sound that will have a lot to offer for people of differing tastes and opinions. With their broad range, collective ear for a catchy melody and yes, marketability, they have the potential to go places - Metal Hammer UK could easily have them set up as some sort of monoliths going by their record of arbitrarily picking out 'cool' (read: gimmicky) power and folk metal bands while belittling the rest. Whether it forces that elusive breakthrough or not, 'Alliance' is most definitely a CD that demands attention, and will hopefully give Grailknights the opportunity to take their loonball stage show on the road more often.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
‘Alliance’. A better title for this album couldn’t have been chosen. The most obvious reason for this title is given in the song ‘Alliance’. Grailknights hails the bond between the band and their fans, the Battlechoir. But there is another alliance on this album. The alliance between the styles used on the album: I heard melodic death metal, power metal and even a hint of folk metal thrown altogether. The genre of the band is described as melodic death metal on the Archives, but power/death metal would be a better description. Here are some songs that definitely need to be pointed as examples for the variety that Grailknights offers.
The opener, ‘Nameless Graves’, would make a perfect power metal song, if without vocals. The chorus in its whole IS power metal. But: the vocals elsewhere are the grunts of death metal.
The next song, ‘Alliance’, consists nearly entirely of death metal. The guitars and drums go wild in a true death metal fashion, Mac Death and Sir Optimus Prime succeed each other in doing the deep throat vocals. Sometimes the power metal comes looking around the corner albeit with minor influences.
The folk influence is heard on “The White Raven”, an accordion and acoustic guitar are used at several points to create the atmosphere of a port full of pirates.
‘Tranquillity’s Embrace’ sounds like an intruder on this album. It is a ballad. An acoustic ballad from a band that makes something death metallish and that dresses like Superman. A total surprise, as you can imagine. But after a few listening sessions it becomes more and more interesting to listen to, since it has a certain power in it and the lyrics are quite inspiring.
The last song to point out is ‘Der König von Thule’ (The King of Thule). It was written by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. The good man died in 1832, so the song could be called ‘classic’. Grailknights gave it a special treatment, and it made of it a song with powerful riffs and acoustic intermezzo’s. They prove with this song that classical music doesn’t have to be boring.
Grailknights is a very creative band, as they proved with this album. They never repeat their selves, which is important for me on an album of this length. Some elements they successfully reuse in different songs, e.g. the parts where the band just shouts ‘Oooooo ooo oooooo ooo…’. These parts are great during live gigs to get the audience yelling. Which is exactly what I’ll do when I see these knights performing live.
To conclude: people looking for something different in power metal, pay attention to this album. It will kick your ass. My personal favourites: ‘Nameless Grave’, ‘Alliance’, ‘Grailquest Gladiators’.