Review Summary: Bringing the leather and steel to a new generation of metalheads.
My dad was really lucky. He grew up in the time of the great metal giants. He got to see bands like Iron Maiden and Megadeth rise to power. Metal has changed a lot since my dad's day. It has diversified and spread. Many of its offshoots have thrived and borne fruit; others have withered, being sapped of all color or interest. Metal has grown in many ways, but in many other ways it has gone astray and fallen into the trap of decadence.
Crisis in Utopia seems to me to be an attempt at a return to form, to the days when metal giants walked the earth. However, Holy Grail doesn't just copy the the good old days, but throws a modern slant on it, with down-tuned guitars and many of the other common tropes of modern metal. What comes of this concoction is a blend of old and new metal, which sits well with me at least.
Crisis in Utopia kicks down the door with "My Last Attack". The dual guitars speed through, followed by James Paul Luna's vocals, which sound like Halford and his motorcycle combined. The song puts you in the right frame of mind for the rest of the album, but by the middle of the second track it's hard to remember. It's not that it's a bad song, but it's just so forgettable.
The next song, "Fight To Kill", sounds like a song that could be at home in the 80's or today. The band polished the star song from their EP Improper Burial and made it into a brand new monster. Everyone seems to turn out some decent work here, but I tip my hat to Luna for singing higher than most women feel comfortable. At lives shows, this one seems to be their closing song, just as Iron Maiden close with their self-titled track.
After the speed and fury of "Fight To Kill", "Call of Valhalla" storms in, taking a slower, more deliberate approach, but keeping the intensity all the same. With lyrics sounding somewhat like "Invaders" off of Number of the Beast, the song chugs along with its tale, bringing us to Valhalla with the fallen warriors and to the next track.
The title track is one of the more modern sounding on the album. It does a good job of describing a nuclear holocaust and the rise of the surviving vermin, and the musicianship is evident. The song drops into a breakdown of sorts that goes on a couple of bars too long for me. Not enough alters in this song. This song also introduces the low scream of one of the guitarists, adding another level of sound that many have criticised the band for, but I think helps with the band's mixture of old and new metal.
The next track is another veteran of the EP, "Immortal Man". Like "Fight To Kill", it has undergone some tinkering, and has come out polished and ready for battle. With a very catchy refrain and a ripping solo, this is definitely one of the best tracks on the album.
Holy Grail throws a curveball with the next track, "Nocturne in D minor", and instrumental reminiscent of classical music. It is very well done, and showcases the musicality of the guitarist.
After the quiet of the previous track "The Blackest Night" stomps on your ears like a steel-toed leather boot. In a good way. Delivering stratospheric vocals, Luna shrieks with all the boundless fury of an atomic bomb. After a very technical solo, the theme from the previous track reintroduces itself for a time, before being crushed under the boots of this track's opening theme. In a good way.
After what I consider the best track on the album, "Chase the Wind" seems to do exactly that. It too is a blend of both old and new, but instead of harnessing their energies, this song seems to flounder between the two.
"Hollow Ground" regains some of the lost energy of the earlier tracks. By this point, however, the sound of the old is very much overpowered by the new. While this track is leaps and bounds above "Chase the Wind", it cannot recapture the same lustre as the earlier tracks.
"Requiem" takes a different path from the earlier songs, recalling some of the strengths of "Call of Valhalla" and "The Blackest Night", going for a slow but deliberate riff over the blistering but sometimes overdone dual guitars. The lyrics of this song are noteworthy, the song of a bitter man turning to face his death, asking neither for pity or sympathy from anyone.
The album ends with a roar with "Cherish Disdain", a more technically interesting version of the album's opener. Varying the speed of the beat, this song allows the listener to appreciate the fact that the band can do more than just thrash. With a piano outro, the album comes to a close.
Holy Grail's debut album combines aspects of old and new metal in ways that are at best thrilling and powerful and at worst pleasantly forgettable in the context of the album. I'm looking forward to the next album, seeing where they decide to take their music and what they've done with it.