Holy Martyr - Still at war 3.5/5
1. Legion's oath (March of the legionaries)
2. Vis et honor
3. Ares guide my spear
5. Hatred is my strength
6. From the north comes the war
7. Hadding Garmsson (Son of a king)
8. Ave atque vale
True metal is often looked on as a needless genre name. Essentially epic traditional/power metal with lyrics themed on battle and glory, it is often viewed as a subdivision to many. One thing is for certain though - you know it when you hear it, and you most definitely hear it when you listen to Holy Martyr.
They play grandiose battle hymns in the style of 'Into glory ride' era Manowar, or perhaps a less orchestral version of Virgin Steele, and they do it with considerable style. The experienced Italian band have been around since 1994, releasing several demos and a couple of EPs before finally getting their full-length CD out, and their experience shows. Despite the somewhat dry production, it is clear from the start that they have been doing what they are doing long enough to get the formula right.
The 7 full songs on 'Still at war' are all expertly developed, with several bridges and harmony and solo sections stretching out the track lengths without making the songs drag. A 10-minute song in this subgenre often means the same 3-minute song played twice with a keyboard interlude padding out the middle – see Majesty – but in the case of "Hatred is my strength" the listener will perhaps be surprised to see the track length when the song, a mixture of soaring vocals and urgent, driving rhythms comes to its conclusion.
Musically, Holy Martyr are relatively simplistic. The drumming is unspectacular but fits perfectly, constantly pounding and driving the songs along. Similarly, the riffs are all fairly basic, but form the perfect basis for the melodies. The lead playing, though, is possibly the best aspect of the CD – the guitar solos do not simply appear and disappear at the expected parts of the song, but rather seem to develop naturally from the melody, with many guitar harmonies emerging and building up to a solo that later merges seamlessly back into the song.
This constant, marching sound is also the only real drawback – with everything going along at mostly the same upper-midtempo pace, with very similar rhythm parts, a lack of variety becomes apparent as the CD edges to a close. Only the thrash riff at the beginning of "Warmonger" offers something a bit different to the rest of the CD. The band have found a blueprint that they like and are sticking to it religiously – which is fair enough when they can write songs of this quality – but for the CD to find a regular place in the listener's rotation, something as simple as a power ballad in the middle of the CD may have been beneficial.
However, for a debut CD, 'Still at war' is a great effort from a band that will hopefully be given the backing to put out a few more. For fans of Manowar, Manilla Road and the like, it will provide one of the surprises of 2007 with its traditional brand of epic metal.
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