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After eight years of power metal bands obsessing over the concept album format, inspired by Gamma Ray’s “Land of the Free”, bands began composing albums in the more traditional portfolio format. One of the last hold outs in 2003 was Swedish outfit The Storyteller, whose name hints at a band that would always specialize in the concept album style, though they too would abandon it after this release. “Tales of a Holy Quest” takes a different route from the two-part Kail saga that preceded it, delving into the history of the witch trials that took place in 17th century Sweden.
The Hammerfall approach of Judas Priest worship is still heavily prominent on this release, although the speed and aggression has been ratcheted up a bit further and Perrson’s vocal performance is continuing to improve. The general flow of the album reflects a much more mature outfit, avoiding the folk metal tendency to overemphasize the ballads and downplay the meat and potatoes of the speed/power metal influences that was present on the debut. “Seed of Lies”, “Chamber of Torture, “Words out of Greed”, Conviction”, and “Blinded Eyes” are all pure speed crushers with catchy choruses and signature riffs that all avoid being overlong, the first of the fold being the most memorable.
Though there is a heavier concentration of pure speed on here, the band has not forgotten how to keep it from being one-dimensional and also throw in some varied work. “The Mass” is a quasi-medieval minstrel influenced ballad in the vain of Blind Guardian, starting acoustic, and then going electric in the same manner as the 2 Bard Songs off Somewhere Far Beyond respectively. “When all hope has faded” is simpler in its nature, consisting of a very exposed yet well executed vocal performance with a single guitar accompanying it. “A Holy Quest” is the lone mid-tempo rocker and follows the same basic structure as their previous songs in this style, putting the emphasis on the voice and keeping the riffs simple.
As with the 2 previous releases, the real highlight of the album is the epic that comes towards the end in “Trails of Blood”, which essentially combines all of the previous elements into one large scale anthem. The melodies are reminiscent of Blind Guardian, the contrasting sections transition smoothly, and Perrson’s voice is at its best; moving even closer to the Eric Adams sound I heard hints of on earlier work. The best point of this song is the breakdown section with a choir of grunting voices chanting “Burn!” over and over, reminding a bit of a similar moment in Metallica’s immortal classic “Creeping Death”.
The history that inspired this album is quite intriguing, as one has to wonder how witch trials of this horrid a nature could have occurred so late in Europe, didn’t we learn from the Inquisition? Much like my fellow Catholic brethren, the Lutheran and Calvinist Churches have a history of violence that is oddly interconnected. Although the reasons for the violence are obviously tied with the desire of the churches to maintain their power and influence, their success in these atrocities were largely tied to their control over the respective governments that ran the countries they were located in. While the Vatican was a political entity onto itself, but it had to contend with secular rulers and make sure that they were in line before acting. The Church of Sweden, by contrast, were the rulers de facto and thus the dubious though still existent separation of powers in the case of the former did not delay the inevitability of the outcome. If anything, this album does much to bolster my continuing support of a separation of church and state.
I am impressed by the band’s strong sense of history and faithfulness to its sanctity. If travesties like this are to be avoided in the future, with an ever decaying education system, it might well fall upon musicians and artists to retell these events in history to the next generation. If you like bands such as Manowar, Hammerfall, Blind Guardian, Nocturnal Rites, and Gamma Ray then this is a good album to get. Although musically it is not quite as powerful as “Underworld”, its value both as a piece of art and brilliant heavy metal homage to history are undeniable.