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Holy Martyr - Hellenic warrior spirit - 80%

Radagast, February 20th, 2009

Released not even a year and a half on from their debut 'Still at war', Holy Martyr's 2nd full-length is a CD that both carries forward the strengths of its predecessor and also shows a surprising amount of development considering the short period of time that has elapsed between the release dates.

As rock-solid as the debut was, the biggest criticism I could find at the time was that for all its vigorous charms, the songs tended not to stray far from the marching, mid-tempo pace that dominated most of the CD. While still rooted in the pounding, militant beats typical of epic metal, 'Hellenic warrior spirit' definitely goes some way to injecting a little more variation in tempo, both across the CD as a whole and individually through some considerably lengthy songs that twist and turn in both mood and pace.

While of course still battle-themed, the lyrical focus this time around shifts from the Roman Empire to ancient Greece, specifically Sparta and the battle of Thermopiles. While a few pairs of eyes no doubt rolled at that last sentence, I feel duty-bound to point out that the band actually started this concept back in 2003 with their 'Hail to Hellas' EP (where a few of the songs on this CD began life), long before Gerry Butler was strutting about in front of a green screen in a pair of gold speedos. Guitarist and songwriter Ivano Spiga has even gone as far as to write some of the lyrics for the CD in Greek (Ancient? Classical? I wish I knew), and it adds an extra layer of drama to the songs. Further to this, there are also some pieces of rich, acoustic music that bridge the gaps between the main songs and increase the theatrical aspect of the CD no end.

The general style of the music hasn't changed at all, however, and indeed why should it after such a successful debut? The epic, towering Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road at al approach that the band have been playing for years remains intact, but the biggest difference is that the songs here feel more developed and intricate than before, and this is where 'Hellenic warrior spirit' surpasses the debut CD. Gallopers like the mighty "Lakedaimon", complete with a pulsing drum beat very reminiscent of that on Manowar's "Revelation (Death's angel)" provide the aggression, while "Kamari, Andreia, Polemos" is typical of the more sorrowful side the band display this time around, a soft requiem to the doomed soldiers of the story.

The absolute best cuts though are those that manage to incorporate both aspects and weave them into lengthy, varied and - crucially – coherent songs that could sum the entire CD up by themselves. The brace of 8-minute giants near the end of the CD, "Defenders in the name of Hellas" and "The lion of Sparta", are stunning in their breadth and scope, and a testament to Holy Martyr's ability to write and perform epic metal songs that captivate and inspire.

It may lack some of the absurdly cool moments that featured on 'Still at war' (such as the chorus to "Vis et honour" or the intro to "Warmonger"), but overall it is most definitely an improvement. Holy Martyr have succeeded in crafting another epic bastard of a CD, but this time they have managed to broaden their range while not diluting what made them so good in the first place, and it gives the CD the opportunity to develop some real staying power.

(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)

It's war. - 75%

ThePerun, January 2nd, 2009

"I've got to have this!" was pretty much my first reaction to a short review I read while flipping through the then-latest issue of Rock Hard magazine. Sparta? Thermopyles? Straight on!

It does set the mood. After a glorious intro that seems lifted straight out of those sword-and-sandal epics from the 60's, the guitars kick in, something in ancient Greek (or something that sounds like it) is shouted and the war has started.

"Hellenic Warrior Spirit" is best described as the acoustic version of the film "300", although the idea apparently predates it. It does not give very much to historical accuracy or political correctness, although my Iranian friends will be pleased to hear that the word "Persian" does not drop once in the near-hour this album lasts (also, the guys who get slain on the album cover don't have any distinction that would mark them Persian). It is an album about Spartan pride, the last stand and as the title says, warrior spirit, and yes, it really is that cheesy. It is a bit different from your typical Manowar album though, if only for the consistently used ancient Greek theme, which is not only carried through the lyrics, but even inspires some interesting instrumental passages. There is even a song with lyrics completely in ancient Greek ("To Kalesma Sta Opla").

However, by the seemingly twentieth passage consisting of choirs going "ooooh ooooh ooooh", it does get a bit old. It is not very much of a sing-along offering either, one reason for that being that the few simple choruses still contain words like "Lakedaimon", which are just a bit too difficult to sing when drunk. The Greek instrumentals have also been testing my patience from time to time, not because I dislike this type of music, but because they do seem a bit out of place inbetween those very epic but yet very simple heavy metal songs.

Nevertheless, the music has an excellent sense of melody, and although you are not likely to actually sing along with it, at least I have caught myself happily humming to it from time to time. It is a very enjoyable album when you're in the right mood, whether that is after having had a few beers or after having watched one epic fantasy movie too many in a row. In any case, it is a nice thing to own for any fan of Manowar, anything epic, or just someone like me who has a soft spot for anything ancient Greek.

Let's March! - 80%

Fulvio_Ermete, September 28th, 2008

'sblood!, would have said Shakespeare in the Othello, and the same I am forced to say in this review: I was sure they'd improve, but not that much! Let's say it out clear: "Hellenic Warrior Spirit" is not only the best Italian metal album this year, but one of the best epic metal albums released lately, overcome just by the latest masterpiece of Obtest (who play pagan black, that's true, but it's just another name of epic metal).

And don't be deceived by the fact the songs are all rather simple to perform, since epic heavy – of which the Italian fivepiece plays the darkest Sabbath-like version – is one of those genres that become ridiculous very easily, and instead...Holy Martyr have all which is needed.

They have the square powerful riffs, never self-centred and perfectly fitting the context; they have the arrangements, that are refined to the small details as far as guitar interlacements (with an axe that maintains the main riff and the other which weaves harmonies to increase the depth) and the rhythmical section (with a bass that can dominate without exaggerating); they have the themes, having understood perfectly that an Italian band that repeats the Viking cliché for the 100th time is just boring, so it's better to recover the thicker Mediterranean tradition: they have the refrains, and what refrains! This is where the fragile destiny of such an album are cast, and Holy Martyr can give the creeps.

But now we must specific a couple of things. "Hellenic Warrior Spirit" is, for the second half, the re-edition of the lucky ep "Hail To Hellas" (in the album there are other Manowar references: in "Lakedaimon" they sing "Spartan men of war...", in "Kamari, Andreia, Polemos" and "Defenders In The Name Of Hellas" they sing "300 heroes into glory ride..."), and is represented by tracks with an elaborated long structure, which are hard to digest for the several changes; the first half, instead, is represented by brand new tracks, with a simpler structure (but without exceeding) that mostly exploit the fulcrum of the refrain. And it's this half to represent la crème of the album: "Spartan Phalanx", "Lakedaimon" and "Hellenic Valour" are memorable for real, and it's impossible not to sing their four to the bar choirs without thinking of the Hoplite phalanxes that advances towards the Thermopiles. March on!

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