Three years have passed since HOLY GRAIL released its first album, "Crisis in Utopia", but what does the passing of time matter to a band whose musical template itself dates from another time and place entirely.That time being the early 1980s, pre-thrash and pre-glam; the place continental Europe and the U.K.: when and where heavy metal's flame was crucially reignited by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, following a brief existential funk caused by punk, then unleashed to achieve widespread dominance over the ensuing decade. For HOLY GRAIL and, for that matter, any other young band working in the third millennium, dominance is of course purely a pipe dream, survival almost a luxury, and any measure of success to be taken gratefully, given the information overload, weak loyalties and hummingbird attention spans of modern music consumers. But, having said all that, one has to give the California group's sophomore album, "Ride the Void", as good a shot as any to successfully slice through the surrounding white-noise and apathy. Building strongly on the promise of that aforementioned debut, "Ride the Void" sees HOLY GRAIL finessing and expanding their vintage metal ingredients to achieve an even more impressive confluence of dazzling musicianship and catchy, anthemic songwriting - all of it best served "blistering" via powerful efforts like "Bestia Triumphans", "Bleeding Stone" and the excellent title track. With their big choruses and even bigger guitar shredding, these highlights and other notables such as "Dark Passenger", "Sleep of Virtue" and even the majestic instrumental intro piece "Archeus", confirm HOLY GRAIL's confidence in their chosen ingredients, and their abilities to mine it for mainstream metal gold - albeit not without a few glaring missteps along the way. In broad terms, we're referring to a clutch of creatively redundant filler tunes that could have perhaps best been saved for use as B-sides ("Crosswinds", "Take it to the Grave", the half-baked ballad "Rains of Sorrow"); specifically, we're looking at the album's lone indefensible ear-sore, "The Great Artifice", which, precisely as its title suggests, is a misguided sidestep into the sort of unclean vocal-enhanced quasi-metalcore best left for TRIVIUM - capped off by a regretful dip into the DRAGONFORCE corn-metal Jacuzzi. Elsewhere, incidentally, infrequent dirty vocals are incorporated far more strategically to the benefit of many of the same songs praised above, so it's not like HOLY GRAIL don't know better - they simply ain't perfect. And yet, even with these occasional errors of judgment, HOLY GRAIL have delivered a consistently seductive sophomore shot in "Ride the Void"; one that tight-ropes the retro-metal agenda as close to the abyss of mainstream mediocrity as can be expected, without plunging to a messy "splat" way down below.
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