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Holy Martyr - Invincible - 80%

Radagast, August 6th, 2011

There’s a tired old saying out there that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and thankfully it can be happily applied to Holy Martyr’s 3rd CD, ‘Invincible’. The unpredicted decision to shift their lyrical focus from the more familiar climes of Ancient Rome and Greece to the military history of Japan (or at least the films of Akira Kurosawa) may seem like a bit of an alienating move, but rest assured the music remains poser-slaying Italian true metal to the bone.

There’s something deeply reassuring about bands like these that manage to stick religiously to their knowingly old-fashioned style while continuing to make music that can charm and never feel like a pale imitation of what has come before.

The riffs and drum beats may be relatively simple stuff, and the solos not technically blinding, but it is the blunt force effectiveness and the care that goes into sewing it all together that makes this band (and many of their epic metal brethren) so enjoyable, and it is a lesson that more than a few people in other metal fields could do with learning.

With the songs arranged so perfectly - many of them veering off wildly from their starting point and don’t bother with simple verse/chorus structures – there is a lot to take in, and while ‘Invincible’ is deceptively dense it still manages to remain catchy and memorable. Steel-throated frontman Alex Mereu’s commanding display at centre stage and the textured, stirring lead guitar performances dig in and don’t let go as the songs expand and keep their listener compelled with no option for the attention to begin wandering. Soaring choruses found on the likes of “Shichinin no Samurai” and “Lord of war” (actually about the recent Nic Cage film in a bit of a departure) showcase Mereu’s throaty roar to perfection and are among the strongest moments on a very strong CD.

Just as they did with the Greek-sung acoustic passages on the preceding ‘Hellenic warrior spirit’, the CD is spiced up with a few passages of Japanese speech and little gasps of the country’s folk music. This isn’t something you’ll hear very often on a Western metal CD, but they pull off these rather daring raids with a bit of class (it’s definitely not just some clown playing the Oriental riff on a keyboard) and it adds extra mood and colour to a concept that already bristles with Holy Martyr’s trademark pounding emotional resonance.

Also following suit from their mighty 2008 sophomore CD, the 2nd and 3rd last songs are pair of contrasting epics that play out completely differently but nevertheless complement each other perfectly. The 9-minute “Kagemusha” is more of a meandering, sorrowful epic, split in the middle by the last – and best – of the folk interludes, and never feels like a drag thanks to its ever-changing dynamics. Following from this, “Sekigahara” is something a little more simple and hot-blooded, a crowd pleasing beast that rampages through it’s considerable running time with little pause for thought and gets the adrenaline pumping again after its more thoughtful companion piece.

Making a good match for the CD that came before it, ‘Invincible’ continues Holy Martyr’s development from their slightly more limited debut offering, and as far as recommendations go it’s a total no-brainer to anyone enamoured with their earlier work or indeed that of their contemporaries in this field of music.

(Originally written for