What has two thumbs and really likes Manilla Road?
(Author’s Note: This is not really me.)
What has (presumably) ten thumbs and also really likes Manilla Road?
Like those long-running Wichita-born brothers of the hammer, Italy’s Holy Martyr plays “true” metal, epic and majestic, with huge melodies and galloping riffs. Vocalist Alessandro Mereu bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Mark Shelton and Hellroadie, but even as Holy Martyr keeps their feet close to the Road, they never quite feel like they’re borrowing glory. Their sound is clearly indebted, but it never crosses so far into copycat territory that it doesn’t hold up on its own merits.
Or maybe it’s just that me and my two thumbs like Manilla Road so much that we’re more tolerant of bands plowing the same path… Regardless, the fact stands: Darkness Shall Prevail is a welcome addition to the ever-too-small stable of epic metal awesomeness – it’s a damn fine and fun record, rife with all the soaring melody and fist-in-the-air riffery necessary to achieve that certain special metaller-than-thou majesty.
With songs like “Minas Morgul,” “The Dwarrowdelf,” and “Numenor,” among the rest, Darkness Shall Prevail is obviously inspired by Tolkein’s historical text, The Silmarillion – neither the first nor the last metal record to cover that topic. Opening number “Shores Of Elenna” is a quick introduction before the album starts properly with “Numenor” and “Heroic Deeds,” both of which are examples of Holy Martyr at their best. Folk-ish guitar lines interweave with metallic riffs and Mereu’s nasal baritone, all supporting tales of fantasy warfare, elves and men and whatever else, crashing swords and thundering hooves and blood and fire and glory. I don’t know The Silmarillion well (or really at all, honestly), and certainly not well enough to follow any narrative arc aside from the various key words that crop up here and there, but the epic nature of the beast invokes enough fantastical scenes of Middle Earth to keep my interest, even if the tales themselves are often regrettably lost upon me.
Darkness’ weakest point is its production – like Manilla Road, or Ironsword, or many others waving the same battle flag, Holy Martyr works with a raw and rough sound, and not with the polished sheen that characterizes the more power metal end of the spectrum. It’s no huge hurdle, no great detriment, but it’s the most noticeable point of improvement, especially when the band’s songwriting skill and the sheer scope of their vision outpaces the recording values. Still, that skill and scope helps Darkness prevail, even against its own shortest-coming.
I wasn’t familiar with Holy Martyr’s earlier work, and Darkness Shall Prevail was (and is) good enough to make me rectify that – I checked out their last record, Invincible, now six years old, and its predecessor, 2008’s Hellenic Warrior Spirit. Both were strong records, but Darkness Shall Prevail is stronger. If you, like me, often can’t get enough of that certain special type of metal that can only be described as “epic,” then here’s another winner to add to the list.