Sophomore albums are always an interesting proposition. Not only because they are supposedly "difficult", but also because they often give a more realistic representation of a band's sound and future direction than their debut. Many bands skew off in a radically different direction on their second albums, eager to avoid stereotype and accusations of regression. However, if a band's second album is similar to their first, then you can bet that's their signature sound and they're happy to stick with it. The latter is definitely the case here. Born out of the ashes of White Wizzard in 2008, Holy Grail quickly developed their own sound and an enthusiastic fan base after the release of their 2010 debut Crisis in Utopia.
So then, what of Ride the Void? While it's most definitely a metal album, there are many elements to it that give it a wider appeal than its genre would suggest. There are plenty of great riffs and finger amputating solos for sure, but the songs have quite a pop-like construction. James Paul Luna's lead vocals are clean and melodic (besides the odd death growl) and while he doesn't quite possess a particularly powerful and rich voice or the ability to hit REALLY high notes, the lyrics and vocals come across as honest, without a hint of auto-tune and he sounds as if he's really enjoying himself! This is something that sets this band apart from many of their power metal contemporaries. While many exponents of the genre preen and pose with unintentionally hilarious sincerity, Holy Grail have an entirely different element to their sound. FUN!
Rather than plod along with mid paced tedium, they have worked a good deal of old school thrash and metalcore riffery into their sound. The riffs are chunky, the dual harmonized solos of Eli Santana and Alex Lee are furiously quick and melodic and the songs have an almost pop sensibility in their structure and sing-a-long-catchy choruses that make listening to this record an enjoyable experience. I'm not sure how the band would feel about this upcoming statement but this is metal for the masses. Most anyone will enjoy this album at least on some level. If there's a fault to be found with Ride The Void, it's that, despite its fun factor and undoubted musical proficiency, it's not very threatening, aggressive or particularly awe inspiring. In fact it's almost pop-power metal. There's nothing that gives you shivers up your spine or feelings of empowerment. There's no brooding intensity . There's no grandiose perversity or apocalyptic rushes of visceral adrenaline. It's all very....accessible and nice.
The preceding paragraph notwithstanding, the album's best moments are contained within the more thrash inspired up-tempo numbers. "Bestia Triumphans" is a great opening track (Besides "Archeus" which is more of an intro) with some great riffing, enthusiastic soloing and powerful drumming from Tyler Meahl. It also builds to one of the few real mosh along crescendos on the album in its final strains.
"The Great Artifice" and "Take it to the Grave" are the other two standouts on Ride The Void. Both feature killer riffing and "The Great Artifice" in particular features interesting Phrygian melodies and both possess great uplifting vocal and guitar harmonies.
While this is a fairly lightweight metal album overall, it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Great playing, great hooks and good times abound within the grooves and its fairly enjoyable for the most part. However much like their debut, it just fails to make any real hard hitting impact.
- Stewart Hall
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