Holy Grail was undoubtedly one of the most interesting and energetic bands to pop up amidst the traditional heavy metal and speed metal movement of recent years. “Crisis In Utopia” remains one of the most truly mind-blowing guitar-oriented records in existence, and the follow-up is similarly stellar. 5 and a half years since the first album, the band is back with their third record, “Times of Pride and Peril”. This album shows a slightly different side; the shred has been dialed back a few notches in favour of a songwriting-first approach. There’s just one problem: the songwriting isn’t as strong as it used to be. Nevertheless, there is a lot to enjoy here.
“Crystal King” kicks off the record, and it shows singer James Paul-Luna going into overdrive mode, as he hits some notes so high that they decimate many power metal vocalists. This is one of the more upbeat songs on the record, which is a major reason why it stands out. There are a few too many tracks on “Times of Pride and Peril” that tend to feel like the band is on automatic mode; a lot of them aren’t all that fast and lack dazzling guitar work (at least compared to songs like “My Last Attack”). At about the halfway point on the record, however, things really pick up. “Descent Into the Maelstrom” is the first track that feels like classic Holy Grail. It is speedy, has tons of intricate soloing, and marks the first truly great chorus of the record (but not the last!). Ultimately, this song rules because it feels like the Holy Grail of old (I’m not inherently against a band evolving, but Holy Grail has two wicked shredders and needs to make better use of them).
The first single that was released, “No More Heroes”, is in line with the band’s previous work. Opening with some nice lead guitar wizardry, this song manages to be both technical and catchy, a rare combination, but one that Holy Grail has achieved effortlessly in the past. “Pro Patria Mori” follows this song, and is another highlight. Much like “Descent Into The Maelstrom”, this is another song where the chorus absolutely rules. Much of the song is driven by a galloping verse until slightly over halfway through the track, where things speeds up, and the band really takes off from there.
To be fair to Holy Grail, this is a record that requires patience and multiple listens. Their sound of old could be dismissed as being superficial on the surface; after all, its strengths are speed and flashy guitar work. Fortunately, however, the band wrote great songs in the past. On “Times of Pride and Peril”, the songs do tend to be growers. “Waste Them All Away”, for example, is a song I didn’t care for the first time around, but once you reach listen four or five, it does tend to stick in your head. This is the case for a number of tracks on the record (primarily the ones that haven’t been mentioned to this point).
Despite the obvious affection I hold for the band’s early works, I’ve never understood the need for harsh vocals. As with 95% of other bands that try to mix clean and harsh vocals, it simply doesn’t work for Holy Grail, and is the primary reason this band has ever drawn comparisons to metalcore (not that there’s anything wrong with that; it just isn’t what I want in speed metal). Fortunately, “Times of Pride and Peril” tones down the harsh vocals further, relegating them to only the final track, “Black Lotus”, which is a 9-minute epic. This is another track where Holy Grail really nailed it, to the point that even the harsh vocals aren’t as frustrating as they’ve been in the past.
So what’s the conclusion then? On the one hand, about half of this album works well immediately, while the other half takes time to sink in. If you’re already a fan of Holy Grail, you’re likely in it for the long haul, and no doubt you will spend plenty of time with this record. As of right now, it ranks as a little bit of a disappointment for me, but I have no doubt my opinion of the record will improve over time.
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"Descent Into The Maelstrom"
"No More Heroes"
"Pro Patria Mori"
4.1/5 or 82%.
Written by Scott