It still strikes me as somewhat odd that a band from Italy has such a borderline obsession with ancient Greece in their lyrics. HOLY MARTYR from Milan is the band that I am talking about and I received their 2008 album “Hellenic Warrior Spirit” and their 2007 predecessor at the same time, so don’t be surprised to find some striking similarities in the introduction for both reviews. Founded in 1994 they are veterans of the Italian scene already and while still staying within the epic regions of Heavy/Power Metal, they are probably as far removed from the RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) pomp as they can be. Instead of generating the epicness through keyboard cascades and orchestral extravagancies, HOLY MARTYR are a lot more down to earth and aptly live out the war-inspired lyrics through a different kind of epic atmosphere.
Now “Hellenic Warrior Spirit” is not a completely new affair, as four of the songs actually are taken off the 2003 “Hail To Hellas” EP, which have been re-recorded for this occasion, but the basic approach is the same, epic battle hymns with the ancient Greeks and Spartans as lyrical foundation are a nice change over all the Vikings that are populating the scene. And after the almost soundtrack-like intro “March” we get the first killer right off the bat in “Spartan Phalanx”. An epic and catchy song, again with this war-like quality in the defiant melodies and the stomping rhythms, aptly realizing the musical version of the story of the 300 Spartans in battle, if you do not like this song, then chances are that HOLY MARTYR as a whole won’t be your cup of tea.
And continuing down the blood-soaked path of the album, a few things become clear: A) The Italians still take a very earthy and at times relatively simplistic approach to the genre. B) They have tons of pathos dripping. C) They are very, catchy (but never blindly polished and straight) D) They are epic as can be. So just like with their debut “Still At War” you shouldn’t expect pomp and technical wizardry, but ground-honest, highly epic and have more character than many of their compatriots put together. Want proof? Take the great acoustic instrumental “H Tan H Epi Tas” (plucked, not strummed) or the doomy widescreen epos “Hellenic Valour” that is just a fantastic track or the epic “Kamari, Andreia, Polemos” and you’ll find the best Greek sounding band Italy has ever spawned!
It’s nice that the older songs fit right into the midst of things without sounding obviously dated and overall the impression I got was that the Italians took the style from “Still At War” and further refined them. Just like before, HOLY MARTYR’s style definitely is not for everybody, as all of you, who prefer the sleek and bombastic won’t become friends with “Hellenic Warrior Spirit”, but if you like an earthier approach, which still is very, very epic, then this band should be the next feast for your ears, no matter which of the two albums you’d want to sink your ears into!
(Online January 3, 2009)