By Kevin Stewart-Panko
At first, we heard some vintage Testament; then, some more classic Bay Area thrash in the form of Lääz Rockit, Death Angel and even a little mid-period Exodus. A little while later, we were pretty sure what we were hearing was all about the infectiousness of a tousled-haired Scorpions chorus, then a heaping helping of straight-ahead, driving hard rock a la the Teutonic Terrors themselves, Accept. The strange thing was that what we were listening to wasn’t actually any of these bands; it was actually one band. What was probably the biggest surprise about what we were listening to was that it was a two-song 7” called Improper Burial from a band that wasn’t a subterranean relic from the 80s being re-issued for the eleven people that originally cared, but a band calling 2010 and the city of Pasadena home. That band, Holy Grail, draw and synthesize their myriad of dusty, old-school influences to create a melange of thrash, power and speed metal plus a shit-ton of concrete-heavy hard rock with an almost sugary melodic edge.
Formed out of the ashes of the original White Wizzard line-up, Holy Grail has seen a rapid ascent second-to-few, going from a blank slate to a handful of ideas to a collection of songs to tours with Amon Amarth, Eluveitie and Exodus’ March of Brutality package tour, all in less than two years and before their still-pending debut, Crisis in Utopia. Suddenly busy vocalist James Paul Luna checked in with Hellbound from the location they’ll be spending a good portion of their immediate future, the back of their touring van, to discuss how alternate tunings, Shrapnel shred and a lack of constraint equals solid songs and scene success.
Seeing as you’re a new name to those of us outside of Southern California, can you give us a quick rundown of the band’s history?
Myself, drummer Tyler Meahl and guitarist James LaRue started Holy Grail together out of the ashes of White Wizzard, which was more of a classic metal revival band. Our intention from the start of Holy Grail was to seek out a heavier, thrashier, and overall more modern sound. Adding a second guitarist, Eli Santana and bassist Blake Mount to the line-up gave us the ingredients needed to make that vision come to life.
Having roots in another up-and-coming band, what have you concluded are the advantages and disadvantages of having your members come from another recognizable name with their own still-increasing profile?
Well, the big advantage is that there ends up being more fans, for both bands, not just one or the other. The obvious disadvantage is that we end up being judged as playing the same style as White Wizzard before people even actually listen to us. Even though we love classic metal, we want to be more than just that.
There’s not a lot of grey hair in your promo shots. What was the general process like in discovering 80s/classic metal and deciding you liked it enough to form a band?
[Laughs] It’s funny how it worked out. But it’s pretty simple because even though we all grew up on a variety of different stuff from hard rock and classic rock, to thrash and Shrapnel shred, it was just dumb luck in finding other like-minded dudes into the same shit who wanted to play in a band.
Was there anything you were looking to do different that you weren’t doing or weren’t able to do with White Wizzard in Holy Grail?
Yeah, there were a few things. With this band, we can finally play highly technical leads, use alternate tunings, and basically, veer away from playing material that didn’t strictly sound like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden.
Your image, artwork and musical style has very obvious and compatible reference points. Do you feel that these elements are part and parcel of Holy Grail or do you think any of these elements can exist exclusively?
We all like various different bands and types of music and it all translates into our sound and image. So it’s always interesting to see what people pick out from that and it’s really open to interpretation; so yeah, there can definitely be multiple facets for each spectator.
Do you ever feel constrained or painted into a corner by the inherent limitations of classic/power/speed/thrash metal?
No, I don’t feel constrained because we make music for the sake of having good songs and we write whatever we want. If we want thrash, we go for it; if we want a catchy Scorpions-esque chorus we go for it. It all gets mixed in together and we feel it all works out in the end.
To that end, what do you attribute the resurgence and interest in classic power/speed metal?
I think the biggest thing is probably blogs and the internet. Plus, there’s so much crappy music out there that it seems only the classic metal/power/speed bands are worth listening to since they still stand the test of time.
Before signing with Prosthetic, was there ever an option to go with a European label that might be able to better promote you to the traditional metal fanbase?
Prosthetic approached us right around the time we were first starting this band, just after we all left White Wizzard. We didn’t have European offers, but Prosthetic always gave us the best vibe and have really given us a solid foundation to build from. We don’t even have an album out yet, so I can’t really say how we could’ve been promoted on a European label, but we’ve already played some great tours and festivals with only having an EP.
That’s something many are curious about: how a band that doesn’t have a full-length available has managed the high profile tours you’ve scored thus far?
Mainly, it’s thanks to our great management, booking agents, and our label all working together. However, in the case of Exodus’ March of Brutality tour, Gary Holt personally asked us to tour through a mutual friend via Facebook, so I guess it’s just luck of the draw really!
Catch Holy Grail on tour across Canada with Blind Guardian at the following dates:
Nov. 23 – Metropolis – Montreal, QC – Canada
Nov. 25 – Theatre Capitole – Quebec City, QC – Canada
Nov. 26 – Kool Haus – Toronto, ON – Canada
Dec. 01 – The Garrick Centre – Winnipeg, MB – Canada
Dec. 03 – MacEwan Hall Ballroom – Calgary, AB – Canada
Dec. 04 – The Starlite Room – Edmonton, AB – Canada
(* NB: This was originally supposed to run in a print publication that, for whatever reason, decided not to publish the interview. Please note that the original interview was edited for length and space constraints to what appears above. –ksp)