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The First Step is Always the Shakiest - 65%

doomknocker, October 27th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, Digital, Bakerteam Records

Holy Shire is a symphonic metal act out of the fertile musical soil of Milan, Italy with their own tales to spin and songs to sing. A relatively young band, one could only hope that the decades' old foundation from which they're building their musical structure would be kind to them lest a potential listening public would gaze upon them as "yet another Italian power metal act". Though for my money there haven't been too many acts, from yesteryear to now, that have completely fallen on their respective faces due to lack of enjoyment on my part. That's what I was hoping to not happen when "Midgard" came a'stormin' out...

Rather than exploding with a wild, uncontrollable wind ala Rhapsody or recent Ancient Bards affairs, Holy Shire instead opt for a mid-paced, riff-driven focus more akin to a melodic Iced Earth mixed with the atmosphere of keyboard-laced arena rock ("Tyr"-era Black Sabbath comes to mind...) and modern rhythmic chugging that drips with genuineness but doesn't exactly slay at first glance. No one extreme overpowers the other for the most part; guitars and orchestral lines tend to walk side-by-side, complimenting each other cleanly and evenly and leaving the vocal lines and flute harmonies as the parts to really pay attention to, which isn't that bad at all (the lead singer has a very nice voice when she's shooting for a gentle liltiness versus the rock chick brusqueness). On paper this would lead to "Midgard" being a good enough album at the very least (the dramatic majesty of "Holy Shire" is a great example of this), but it doesn't always reach that high.

The majority of the album chugs on by with the same pacing and tempo, not really stepping it up (or down) all throughout, thereby leading to a somewhat frustrating listen. Every once in a while it all combines into something great, lush and able-bodied enough for me to continue paying attention, but when a 4 and a half minute song with 8 minutes' worth of riffs and movements feels twice as long it makes you a bit antsy and wanting more to happen. But then again, maybe I was just expecting too much given where melodic Italian power metal has come from and am a bit unfair, but I still can't help but walk away a bit unsatisfied. Maybe the next time around the band could take the better aspects and pump them up to the point of overkill. But that would be up to them.

At the end of the day "Midgard" isn't exactly an explosive debut, but it's also not a complete loss. The chance exists that these guys and gals could make an impact on the modern power metal scene, but I'm not sure how far they'd fare with the old guard of the mid-to-late 90s. Proceed with caution.

Mediocre. Ambitious and Nifty, but Mediocre. - 56%

TheStormIRide, May 13th, 2014

Holy Shire is an Italian symphonic power metal act hailing from the fertile metal grounds of Milan. After a demo in 2010, Moonrise, and an EP in 2011, Pegasus, the band was scooped up by Bakerteam Records, a label gaining some infamy for signing all sorts of symphonic, power and progressive metal bands. The band's debut full length album, Midgard, is a lush affair, with airy orchestral pieces, melodic flute lines, crunchy guitars and a mix of operatic and choral female vocals. While nothing is inherently wrong with the band's performance or approach, there really isn't anything that stands out.

With a fiery start to the album in “Bewitched (My Words Are Power)”, I thought for sure I was in for a thrilling album. There's nice mix featuring two vocalists, one with a biting edge and the other with a silky, mid range choral approach. The guitars are chunky and rhythmic, with a precise and energetic sound. There's a nice background, with overarching keys and a flute wandering throughout, but it's a cohesive and driving listen. Unfortunately, the remainder of the album fails to capture the dynamic essence of the opener. Tracks like “Winter is Coming” rely too heavily on the keyboards and flutes and ultimately fall flat: the only saving grave are some catchy as hell and surprisingly moody vocal patterns during the choruses. What seems to happen throughout the entire album, here, are brief flashes of brilliance. There are glimpses of energetic and eager band, ready to kick ass and take names, and then they fall back into placid waters of middling mediocrity. Truly the only song to really match the fire and fury of the opener is “Holy War”, which again showcases the driving rhythm guitars, using the keys and flute as background instruments rather than the main focus.

I know that the band is going for some type of epic, almost cinema score style sound here, but they don't capture it. The album's title track, “Midgard”, shows the band's ambitious nature in reaching for the heights of epic, slow building song structures, but it doesn't go anywhere. The mild climax, if you can even call it that, just has louder drum line and louder notes from the flute, but the guitars are feature the same plodding that was on the rest of the album. It really capitalizes on the nature of Midgard as a whole, though, with it's by the numbers approach.

Despite it's ambitious approach, it really boils down to a mediocre listen. Sure, having a main vocalist and one who does a choir style is nifty and the band's constant flute lines and symphonic keys are a nice touch, it's still rather generic and by the numbers. The band sounds best when everyone is playing energetically, but it only happens a few times. For a fifty-minute album, you would expect things to be more engaging, but alas, it's not so for Holy Shire. Like I said, this isn't bad, but it's just not very good. If you really want to listen to this band, just download “Bewitched (My Words Are Power)” and “Holy Fire” and leave the rest of this where it belongs.

Written for The Metal Observer.