Sound: For those not in the know, Holy Grail is a new band who was originally part of the NWOTHM (New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal) alongside bands such as Cauldron and White Wizzard. The latter of the two especially deserves mention because three out of the five members of Holy Grail are White Wizzard alumni, casualties of WW mainman Jon Leon's inability to keep band members, aka power trip. Singer James Paul Luna, guitarist James J. LaRue, and drummer Tyler Meahl decided to form their own band upon their exit from White Wizzard, where they could have more creative control and play the music they wanted to play. They recruited guitarist Eli Santana and bassist Blake Mount, and the Holy Grail machine took off, and it hasn't slowed down yet.
Crisis in Utopia has everything a metal album should offer. The songs are extremely heavy, even occasionally including death growls (courtesy of the death metal-influenced Santana), but they have a melodic sensibility and catchy riffs as well. Guitarists LaRue and Santana are extremely skilled riffers, writing songs that grab your attention with the first intro riff and hold it until the end. Although the riffs are very strong, it is the solos on which the duo truly shine, LaRue in particular bringing out blistering classically-influenced leads. Meahl's powerful double-bass drumming style isn't too varied, but the music requires a beat reminiscent of thunder, and on that Meahl certainly delivers. The bass is somewhat buried in the mix, but it is still audible and well-performed. As a whole, the instrumentation on this album is very accomplished and professional. // 10
Lyrics: Three words: James Paul Luna. The man is, quite simply, a great vocalist. His voice has a tough quality about it that is hard to find among traditional metal vocalists, while still attaining the high-range vocal sound that is compulsory for old-school metal. While I love singers like Bruce Dickinson or Timo Kotipelto, to achieve anything close to their vocal style most males would have to put their balls in a mouse trap. Luna's voice is not like that at all. On Improper Burial his voice sounds reminiscent of Kevin Heybourne of Angel Witch (not that it's a bad thing, far from it, but it helped keep them squarely in the NWOTHM category). However, over the course of a year, his voice has evolved considerably and now can best be described as a cross between Rob Halford and The Legacy-era Chuck Billy, but this doesn't do him justice. The sheer power in his vocals is undeniable.
The lyrics are an interesting mix of fantasy-medieval (Fight to Kill, Immortal Man), revenge/violence My Last Attack), rising up against oppression (Hollow Ground) and emotional (Requiem). The title track is about the apocalypse, but they bring a new flavor to a regular metal theme which is often rehashed and beaten into oblivion. I find the lyrics to be empowering or thought-provoking, no thoughtless stupidity to be found here. Altogether, I find the lyrical content of the album to be fitting with the music, and Luna delivers a winning performance that earns him a place with the greats. // 9
Overall Impression: Crisis in Utopia was released this year on October 26, and it shows a band that has grown a long way from their humble NWOTHM roots and created a sound that may be uniquely theirs. EP Improper Burial, released in 2009, showcases 2 1980's-reminicent originals, which although a joy to listen to and bringing back the feeling of classic metal bands such as Angel Witch and Accept, sometimes reminds the listeners of White Wizzard's High Speed GTO EP (featuring Luna, LaRue, and Meahl). While Improper Burial is straight-up NWOTHM, Crisis in Utopia seems to cobble together the best attributes of traditional metal, thrash, and power metal with a very light hint of melo-death in an epic combination, and never while listening to it do the words "White Wizzard" come to mind.
Another impressive thing about Holy Grail is their work ethic. Since the release of Improper Burial last year, they have done three full-length American tours opening Exodus, Amon Amarth, and 3 Inches of Blood, and at the time of this writing (November 25, 2010), they are in the middle of another one as direct support for Blind Guardian (I have seen them on all of their tours to date). They have also made various European festival appearances during the summer. This astounding amount of effort has already gotten them a lot of exposure in the metal world, and it shows them to be a band that really and truly is willing to work for their success. Also, the band is composed of nice, down-to-earth guys who talk to the fans, get to know them, and make time for them. I will justify my high ratings on this album thus: I am not one who believes in giving every decent album a 9 or 10 score. I think a good solid album deserves a 7. This album goes beyond good and solid, and I gave the scores I gave because I truly believe that the album deserves them. It is simply that good. In closing, I will say that Holy Grail is poised to be one of the greatest of the new metal bands, and Crisis in Utopia has set them well along that path. // 10