One of the reasons for the enduring popularity of heavy metal must surely be its brilliant, almost paradoxical ability to be both eternal outsider and warm welcoming community, often at the same time. I have lost count of the times that I have defended the bands and music that I love, the arguments that I have entered, the friendships forged and fostered. It’s this passion together with a cunning brilliance at constantly reinventing itself that ensures that metal continues to fascinate and beguile. I am, therefore, fairly predisposed to like most things “heavy metal” . So why am I having such a difficult time with “Ride the Void,” the second album from traditional metal specialists, Pasdena’s Holy Grail?
I should really like this record. It’s hard, it’s fast, it has plenty of guitar solos. It wears its influences like freshly inked tattoos, whether it’s the Judas Priest vocal stylings or the Dragonforce guitar heroics or the Testament riffing that rears its head on ‘Silence the Scream.’ All sounds great doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. I think my overriding feeling after hearing this album was one of…well, absolutely nothing, actually. It left me acutely, resolutely, cold. It’s a very knowing record. But there isn’t a glint in its eye to suggest that there’s an underlying, atavistic sense of humour at play. On the contrary, the earnestness with which the band go about their business feels studied and contrived, metal by numbers.
Want a bit of fretwankery? Step this way.
A guttural death growl? To your left, sir.
An epic ballad? Here you go, get your lighter ready.
It’s all very well put together and delivered with never anything less than a workmanlike proficiency. This, of course, is part of the problem. There’s no surprises, no drama. I want to be thrilled, excited. I found myself cringing, shaking my head in disbelief at the sheer bloody ordinariness of it. When it was all finished, I just wanted to sit in the quiet, still of my living room, glad that it was all over.
“Ride the Void” has raided the well thumbed Book of Heavy Metal Cliches and invented a few more of its own. Bizarrely, I can see that this is going to be one of those records where lots of people who should know better are going to go absolutely ga ga over, talking nonsense about how traditional metal is the truest of the true metal or some such cobblers like that. If you like this sort of thing, you’re probably going to think that I’m being massively unfair and prejudiced and that it’s the best thing since a loaf of bread got sliced. You’re entitled to disagree and spend your hard earned cash on this kind of thing. Me? I thought it was just woeful. Sorry.