Holy Shire – The Legendary Shepherds of the Forest (Heavy Metal Records)

Thursday, 11th October 2018
Rating: 5.5/10

Symphonic metal stylistically can lean one way or the other – the prism running the spectrum from artists who venture towards atmosphere, bombast, and orchestration, or using those tools to expand the natural tension and heaviness that the genre natural produces. Italian seven-piece band Holy Shire lean more to the former tendencies on their second album, The Legendary Shepherds of the Forest. Active since 2009 and containing two full-time vocalists plus flutist beyond the conventional guitar, bass, keyboards, and drum role players – their expansive outlook in terms of sounds can create plenty to take in song to song from an aural perspective, yet very hard to lock onto for cohesion and comprehension.

You will get an exotic, semi-gothic groove going to start a song within “Tarots” for instance that makes you think of Therion, and then the fuzzbox guitar effects or multi-grit/operatic histrionic passages during the verses and choruses flatten the arrangement, taking away that yesteryear feeling even as the flute parts add the right dreamy atmosphere. Measured orchestration in spots opens up jagged guitar chord progressions and progressive percussion supplementation – the title track a brilliant, addictive effort that builds momentum through some electric shifts and varied male/female vocal tradeoffs that encompass The Gathering, Moonspell, and possibly Lake of Tears influences. Other times though, the over-dramatic keyboard/guitar combinations scream textbook symphonic power /fantasy measures – check out “Princess Aries” and “The Gathering”, where you wonder if Holy Shire are trying to transport you into a Lord of the Rings/Middle Ages movie mashup or if they are truly serious about their fantasy craft.

You ever listen to something that you believe has all the potential in the world, but if given the chance to call the shots for a better overall experience, you would? Holy Shire for any hope of a prolonged career needs to focus on a few strengths rather than going for broke in ten different aspects for each song, as they can perform well individually, but make for quite a messy go around on The Legendary Shepherds of the Forest. The gothic/exotic sides are cool, some of the wild operatic and dramatic vocals – not so much. As such, proceed into this record at your own pace.

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