Grailknights - Alliance 4/5
1. Nameless grave
3. The white raven
4. Echoes of wisdom
5. When good turns evil
6. Tranquility's embrace
7. Mortem obi
8. In for the kill
9. Grailquest gladiators
10. Der konig von thule
Until I saw them onstage supporting Sabaton late last year, Grailknights were a band I hadn't even heard of. Surprising, considering their wacky, larger-than-life image (those Germans...) that they seem to have avoided any serious media coverage so far. To say their live show - 4 grown men in colour-coded superhero costumes fighting off stagehands in rubber skull masks while a pantomime horse hands out tins of beer to the audience - left an impression on me would be an understatement, and while the display they put on was pure entertainment, threatening even to upstage their Swedish hosts, I was keen to make sure that in the sobering light of day their melodic death/power metal combo held up to their image.
This 3rd CD, 'Alliance', does indeed match expectations, and the music is actually presented on its own terms and with a completely straight face. In fact, if a listener were to be presented with the CD with no prior knowledge of the band, their ridiculous appearance would most likely come as a surprise. A bit of comedy in heavy metal is always welcome of course, but bands like Edguy and Trollfest – for 2 quick examples – need to realize that letting it spill over from the image and lyrics and seep into the music itself is more often than not to the detriment of a CD.
Another thing that makes itself clear quite early on is that for occupying a niche that has had quite a hefty population of late, Grailknights have actually hit on something fairly unique. Not the Children of Bodom approach the term 'melodic death/power' usually brings to mind, they play a far grander, more epic style that brings in a few folk elements from time to time, and indeed the best quick description I can find is of a less folky Ensiferum. "White raven" is the song which sounds most like the Finnish titans, with some accordion assistance and a bigger clean vocal presence (actually more reminiscent of Turisas' Warlord Nygard) than usual contributing to what might just be the best song on 'Alliance'.
The varied mixing up of vocal styles is one of Grailknights' biggest pulls, with the songs frequently jumping between differing harsh and melodic tones. Bassist Mac Death (groan) deals in low-frequency death growls, while the higher-pitched harsh vocals and lead clean vocals are dealt with by guitarist Sir Optimus Prime (groan groan). Most of the songs also feature the 2 singing along with 2nd guitarist Lord Lightbringer (groan groan groan) in choir formation, and the extra variety this brings further accents the differing approaches they take to their individual songs.
The heavy riffing and pounding drums in the verses of the opener "Nameless grave" perfectly suit the guttural growls of the bass player, while the energetic melodic lead playing of "In for the kill" is quite reminiscent of the later, more power metal work from the Dragonforce progenitor Demoniac. More restrained offerings include the gentle ballad "Tranquillity's embrace", which again walks the same streets as Ensiferum, and the meandering, German-sung closer "Der konig von thule".
"Grailquest gladiators" is another stellar offering, with a simply compulsory chorus dominating the song, culminating in a broken-down drums-and-choir section that ensures it stays in the mind long after the CD has stopped spinning.
All the ingredients in the end come together to fashion a sound that will have a lot to offer for people of differing tastes and opinions. With their broad range, collective ear for a catchy melody and yes, marketability, they have the potential to go places - Metal Hammer UK could easily have them set up as some sort of monoliths going by their record of arbitrarily picking out 'cool' (read: gimmicky) power and folk metal bands while belittling the rest. Whether it forces that elusive breakthrough or not, 'Alliance' is most definitely a CD that demands attention, and will hopefully give Grailknights the opportunity to take their loonball stage show on the road more often.
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