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Modern badassery - 80%

IanThrash, June 6th, 2013

After receiving a lot of good reviews about James Paul Luna’s (ex-White Wizzard) new band, I decided to check their debut album “Crisis in Utopia”. I had a sort of skepticism about this record as it was released by Prosthetic Records; the same company that released kick ass bands like Kylesa, Hour of Penance and Skeletonwitch, but also released a bunch of 2nd rate "core" bands like All That Remains and Beneath the Massacre. Of course I hoped for kick ass heavy metal, but I was a little concerned about the possible "core" approach.

Well, I have to say I wasn’t all that wrong. The production has a clear modern style far from what Luna did in White Wizzard, but surprisingly I enjoyed it a lot. There is a subtle modern core influence but applied in a proper way, making the songs even catchier and stronger. This album impressed me, I expected average heavy metal with cool vocals and a few catchy riffs but there’s much more to be said about Crisis in Utopia: every song is a potential hymn. The vocal melodies take the command with lots of memorable choruses driven by James La Rue awesome guitar playing.

I have to focus on this: There’s a clear poppy/core approach in the vocal production (the title track is one of the more core-ish songs, but it's also a very good one) don’t be afraid my fellow metal head, because the guitar and drum work are strong enough to keep the music on a great pulse during the whole album. There’s so much melody and harmony on the guitar solos, James J. LaRue and Eli Santana made an outstanding job pulling out some pretty great leads filled with many twin guitars and classic heavy metal references. The guitars are definitely one of the strongest points on this record.

I would recommend this album to all the classic heavy metal fans that can stand very polished production; this is a great crossover between old school compositions and modern influences. It’s an interesting work that shows a lot of potential. I have to check their latest album but from what I’ve read it’s a great follow up to Crisis in Utopia.

Very Good Traditional Metal - 80%

Shadoeking, January 8th, 2011

One of the most highly anticipated debut albums last year was this one from the traditional metal band Holy Grail. After a critically lauded and successful EP, Improper Burial, the band was set to release their first full-length in 2010. Featuring three former members of trad metal band White Wizzard, Holy Grail had already built up a bit of name recognition and were able to release the aforementioned EP on Prosthetic Records.

Musically, this is is high-speed traditional metal drawing on such influences as Iron Maiden, Jag Panzer, and some other bands of the American power metal scene in the 1980's. Oftentimes the sound does come close to being more of a power metal style, although not the flowery European power metal. The album is somewhat similar to Cauldron, of whose 2009 album I was a big fan.

Holy Grail writes very melodic, but oftentimes powerful, and otherwise very fast songs. The riffs fly by quickly and they also utilize shredding guitar solos. The vocals are done in a typical traditional metal style, clean and soaring over the riffs.

The band often hints at more extreme metal styles, such as in the song "The Blackest Night" during the vocals over the power chords. Holy Grail never quite reaches this more extreme sound, but does throw in a thrashier riff once in awhile.

Holy Grail is lumped in with the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, and for good reason. This album clearly sounds stuck in the 1980's. It is a a great fast album to listen to, making it a great album to exceed the speed limit to. Do not take that as legal advice, even though I am a lawyer. Just listen to the damn album.

Holy Fail, Crisis in my Eardrums - 36%

heavymetalbackwards, January 6th, 2011

Holy Grail are a recently formed heavy metal band, and they’re barely heavy metal. They’re actually closer to the music of Hammerfall, Primal Fear, Dream Evil, and 3 Inches of Blood; it’s borderline power metal in sound, spirit, and lyrics. Some people consider Holy Grail part of the so-called heavy metal revival movement (a movement I personally deny existing), but I just don’t understand it. They are not playing a style of metal that has ever been unpopular in recent history. Hammerfall and their peers have been juggernauts in the metal world for over a decade, and that’s what Holy Grail are playing. What the hell? Since when did that kind of stuff ever go out of fashion or slow down in production. It’s ubiquitous. If this band were European, there is no way anyone consider them heavy metal revivalists. I bet some of it has to do with their close connections to White Wizzard, because if the heavy metal revival does exist then White Wizzard would certainly be a good example of it.

My second complaint with the band is the blatant metalcore influence on a few songs. They’re scattered throughout the album, but a prominent example that comes to mind is the fry screaming on the song Cherish Disdain. And no, it’s not the only song with metalcore screams and breakdowns. I sometimes think that I’m listening to Killswitch Engage covering Dio (haha, like that would ever happen), and at its worst points like I’m hearing Avenged Sevenfold. The singer has some probably unintentional similarities to the A7X vocalist, which isn’t intrinsically bad; I can’t blame the guy for the natural timbre of his singing voice and coincidental cultural associations that are less than flattering. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t going out of his way to imitate M. Shadows.

So, besides these low points, what does Crisis in Utopia specifically sound like? It has soaring melodic vocals, catchy and powerful choruses, technical soloing and drumming, and crystal-perfect production. It is very accessible and inoffensive, but by no means bad. The singer has a tasteful level of grit in voice, and he can scream and shriek like the best of heavy and power metal singers. The overall sound, while a bit plain for my ears, is very palatable and well-done. Some songs like “My Last Attack” and “Chase the Wind” are really enjoyable, uplifting metal songs from start to finish. Unfortunately, the songwriting is mediocre. For metal that tries to be epic, there’s a lot of verse-chorus trite which is boring because while memorable, the refrains aren’t exactly anthem quality. They could probably never write something as powerful as Manowar or Saxon. They go through the motions to make good but never great tracks.

I read an interview with this band and it all makes sense. They claimed they wanted to bring back heavy metal, but give it modern touches and push it forward so it wouldn’t stagnate. Well, this band would be a lot better if they were openly and admittedly a throwback band and kept the metalcore out. Yeah, I hate it when bands forcefully try to be retro because I believe the feeling of true metal and traditional pride should come naturally and never contrived, but that pet peeve is far less annoying than throwing in the Shadows Fall touches to otherwise fun music. You know, while Holy Grail is far superior to Trivium, they share some similarities to that abomination in the sense that they combine an old-school genre with trendy –core while considering themselves a sincere version of the former.

Anyway, to all you heavy metal fans out there, be warned before you buy. If you’re looking for something that sounds like the really genuine metal, bands like Riot and Accept and Anvil, then you are better off with a band like Cauldron or Enforcer. Those are modern bands who know what true heavy metal sounds like, and they’re very in touch with their roots. Holy Grail are a mediocre-at-best novelty who occasionally get things right IF you have a taste for modern power metal. Don’t let anyone fool you; Holy Grail are reviving nothing, and despite what some people say there is a very strong metalcore overtone.

They'll Be Filling Stadiums in a Few Years - 70%

FullMetalAttorney, December 13th, 2010

Holy Grail is a California traditional metal band formed by three former members of White Wizzard. Crisis in Utopia is their first full-length, and it demonstrates the band has everything it could ever possibly need to start filling stadiums in a few years. Perfect production? Check. Memorable riffs? Check. Catchy choruses? Check. Crowd-pleasing vocal technique? Check.

Their style is instantly recognizable as traditional heavy metal, influenced by all the usual suspects. It's not quite over the top either--I'd say it's right at the top. They never turn into a joke, like most others in the trad metal revival (I'm looking at you, Enforcer). You probably won't notice the bass, and the drums are basically here to keep it moving forward. The real stars here are guitar and vocals.

First, the guitars. The pace ranges from middle to fast, and the riffs are memorable (especially check out "The Blackest Night"). Occasional pinch harmonics are thrown in, and the solos tend toward the neoclassical; I'd never say they shred (no Zakk Wylde in the bunch) but they can definitely play their instruments. Give them another album or two of experience, and I would expect these twin axes to chop off some heads.

The vocals are both an asset and a liability. The backup vocals provide the very occasional growl, which doesn't really hurt or help anything, it's just there. On the lead vocal front, Luna's talent is undeniable, in range (Halford-esque), lyrical content (Vikings and battle), and the ability to write a stadium-ready shout-along hook ("Rage! Fire! Born of your desire!"). If you're not singing "Run your sword through the enemy!" by the end of "Call of Valhalla", you might want to turn in your metalhead badge right now. On the other hand, his throaty, high singing has a bit too much resemblance to the douche from Avenged Sevenfold. It's never bad, by itself, and if that band had never existed it probably wouldn't bother anyone. But at times (e.g. the title track) it's hard to shake that impression.

Still, if you can get past that, it's hard not to sing along. It will probably broaden their appeal to a more mainstream audience, potentially making them the next gateway drug of choice to more extreme things. And thankfully, none of the music is remotely metalcore.

The Verdict: Holy Grail has a hell of a lot of potential, and Crisis in Utopia is a fun listen. It's not perfect, but it's one of the best trad metal debuts in a while.

originally written for

Crash course in modern melodics - 73%

autothrall, October 26th, 2010

Holy Grail is a Californian band, the product of three former White Wizzard members who went their separate ways. They also have the distinction of being one of a few bands on the Prosthetic roster who don't perform the trendy metalcore I often associate with the label. Speaking of trends, you might expect that this band would attempt to jump on that same retro heavy metal bandwagon that has taken off these past few years, akin to their mediocre alma mater White Wizzard, but I'm happy to say that this isn't really the case. Surely, Holy Grail carry those influences, but there is a prevalent leaning here towards the modern power metal ethics present in bands like HammerFall, Firewind and Dragonforce, though never so blisteringly fast or indulgent as that third name.

Crisis in Utopia is their first full-length, following and incorporating their Improper Burial EP from last year, and though it didn't leave a huge impression upon me, there is no denying the talents at the band's disposal. Flighty, acrobatic riffing rules the day, courtesy of Eli Santana and James J LaRue, whether they're busting out rabid leads or fairly complex rhythms that blend a heavily European power subtext with the precision of old US acts like Omen or Helstar. The rhythm section of Blake Mount and Tyler Meahl is taut and impressive, and James Paul Luna has a beautiful range, crystalline and soaring as he executes each verse and chorus line. The production here is top notch, polished down to the accessibility shared by so much of this genre, never looking back for raw nostalgia.

The album also opens with its arguably strongest number, "My Last Attack", which instantly craves attention with the screaming intensity of its verses and happy go lucky power metal momentum that is cut through by delicious, technical guitar fills, dual melodies and an overall, uplifting propulsion. It hooks you from the start, and then doesn't let you go through the surge of "Fight to Kill", one of the tracks revisited from the 2009 EP. The chorus here isn't all that impressive, but the guitars rage through the composition, too clever and balanced to trip over themselves while Luna is screeching over them like a steel bird of prey. Unfortunately, this is the first point on the album at which the band decides to incorporate a little errant melodeath or metalcore snarling beyond the bridge, something that simply is not and never will be necessary within this band.

Granted, it's in small supply here, peppered in just a few tracks, like "Crisis in Utopia" where it's clearly being used in total metalcore fashion common to other Prosthetic bands (like All That Remains' breakdowns). Minor, but it's like finding a thick, unidentified hair in your porridge: you might still enjoy the dish, but your satiation will be tarnished nonetheless. Better to ignore these unfortunate lapses and concentrate on the better bulk of the album, like the choppy and hammering of "The Blackest Night", intense shredding rhythms of "Cherish Disdain" (ignore the harsh screams there too)" or the sorrowful, driving power of "Requiem". Not a lot of the material sticks to the soul. It's melodic, aggressive and precise, but drips off the body like rain, never quite sinking its pterodactyl talons into the flesh, despite a valiant effort.

It's impossible to ignore the appreciable level of tactics mustered by Holy Grail here, and I would gladly take this over the more traditional, less impressive works of North American acts like White Wizzard, Cauldron, or the awful 3 Inches of Blood (who possess a more balanced mixture of the power and extreme metal relish that Holy Grail only hint at). The professional production values and proficiency of the musicians should go a long way towards gaining them some ground with a wide audience, but most of the better songs are the sort that simply dazzle without depth, shine without submerging the listener into a repetitious cycle of 'press play' lust. Nothing registers beyond the surface, but it's certainly a wild ride across that surface, and we'll undoubtedly be hearing more from them in the future.