Holy Martyr - Hellenic warrior spirit 4/5

Reviewed: 2-20-09


1. March (intro)
2. Spartan phalanx
3. Lakedaimon
4. H tan H epi tas
5. Hellenic valour
6. Kamari, Andreia, Polemos
7. The call to arms
8. Molon labe
9. Defenders in the name of Hellas
10. The lion of Sparta
11. To kalesma sta opla

Released not even a year and a half on from their debut 'Still at war', Holy Martyr's 2nd full-length is a CD that both carries forward the strengths of its predecessor and also shows a surprising amount of development considering the short period of time that has elapsed between the release dates.

As rock-solid as the debut was, the biggest criticism I could find at the time was that for all its vigorous charms, the songs tended not to stray far from the marching, mid-tempo pace that dominated most of the CD. While still rooted in the pounding, militant beats typical of epic metal, 'Hellenic warrior spirit' definitely goes some way to injecting a little more variation in tempo, both across the CD as a whole and individually through some considerably lengthy songs that twist and turn in both mood and pace.

While of course still battle-themed, the lyrical focus this time around shifts from the Roman Empire to ancient Greece, specifically Sparta and the battle of Thermopiles. While a few pairs of eyes no doubt rolled at that last sentence, I feel duty-bound to point out that the band actually started this concept back in 2003 with their 'Hail to Hellas' EP (where a few of the songs on this CD began life), long before Gerry Butler was strutting about in front of a green screen in a pair of gold speedos. Guitarist and songwriter Ivano Spiga has even gone as far as to write some of the lyrics for the CD in Greek (Ancient? Classical? I wish I knew), and it adds an extra layer of drama to the songs. Further to this, there are also some pieces of rich, acoustic music that bridge the gaps between the main songs and increase the theatrical aspect of the CD no end.

The general style of the music hasn't changed at all, however, and indeed why should it after such a successful debut? The epic, towering Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road at al approach that the band have been playing for years remains intact, but the biggest difference is that the songs here feel more developed and intricate than before, and this is where 'Hellenic warrior spirit' surpasses the debut CD. Gallopers like the mighty "Lakedaimon", complete with a pulsing drum beat very reminiscent of that on Manowar's "Revelation (Death's angel)" provide the aggression, while "Kamari, Andreia, Polemos" is typical of the more sorrowful side the band display this time around, a soft requiem to the doomed soldiers of the story.

The absolute best cuts though are those that manage to incorporate both aspects and weave them into lengthy, varied and - crucially coherent songs that could sum the entire CD up by themselves. The brace of 8-minute giants near the end of the CD, "Defenders in the name of Hellas" and "The lion of Sparta", are stunning in their breadth and scope, and a testament to Holy Martyr's ability to write and perform epic metal songs that captivate and inspire.

It may lack some of the absurdly cool moments that featured on 'Still at war' (such as the chorus to "Vis et honour" or the intro to "Warmonger"), but overall it is most definitely an improvement. Holy Martyr have succeeded in crafting another epic bastard of a CD, but this time they have managed to broaden their range while not diluting what made them so good in the first place, and it gives the CD the opportunity to develop some real staying power.




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