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Shredding with Eli Santana of Holy Grail.

April 9, 2013

Holy Grail Band PicText and interview by Chad Sims.

Holy Grail is a heavy metal band from Pasadena, California who are relative newcomers, only having existed since 2008.  To listen to them you would never know they have been around such a short time.

They play a brand of extremely fast and precise shred metal that blends elements of thrash, death metal, metalcore and progressive rock (think a more fun version of Dragonforce).  Their vocals harken back to when metal singers actually sang rather than screamed or roared through songs and their dual lead guitars often seem superhuman.

Holy Grail is playing the Metal Alliance Tour April 18th at the Theatre of the Living Arts with Shadows Fall, Municipal Waste, Exodus and headlined by Anthrax (playing their entire Among the Living record).

Holy Grail. Photo by Alex Solca.I got to see Holy Grail a couple years back at Kung Fu Necktie and have been a huge fan ever since. Their performance is killer. Make sure to get there early because you might miss this astonishing band.

I talked with Eli Santana (right, in a photo by Alex Solca), one of the band’s guitarists, on an off-night of the tour when it sounded as if they were getting some much needed rest.

How has the tour been going?

It has been a lot of fun. It is kind of sinking in the caliber of metal that we are constantly surrounded by. I mean getting to hear one of the greatest metal records (Anthrax’s Among the Living) performed all the way through every night. We had toured with Exodus before so it was awesome to reunite with them. They are vicious as ever. Then High On Fire is one of the loudest bands I have heard (unfortunately, HOF are not playing the East coast dates.). And Municipal Waste are definitely the thrasher party guys and they live up to that. It is already one of the most fun tours we have been on.

Were you a fan of Anthrax and Exodus growing up?

Yeah, Among the Living was my favorite Belladonna (Joey Belladonna, the sometimes lead singer of Anthrax) era records and one of my favorite records of all time. I have been a fan of Anthrax over the years. The stuff with John Bush is awesome.

Then Exodus kind of paved the way for what to do as a thrash band. I think that Gary Holt is a really underrated guitar player in the metal world. He doesn’t get enough credit as a shredder. As a rhythm and lead player, he is killer.

Have any of the shows stood out on the tour thus far?

Vancouver was sold out. There was a lot of energy throughout the whole place and we are playing pretty early so it is great to see people there. And not just for us. It is great that they love metal so much that they want to be up front and be ready to thrash for that many hours.

At the Hollywood show, Slash came out and did a song with Anthrax. Then at the end of the show, Chuck D from Public Enemy came out and did “Bring the Noise.” It was just kind of awesome.

After that we thought it was just a one-time thing, but then at the San Francisco show, Kirk Hammett from Metallica came out and played a song with them. I actually got to meet him really quick. I came back stage from the merch booth and there he was. He was really nice.  Then two of the guys from Machine Head were walking around, the two from Vio-lence (Robert Flynn and Phil Demmel). I started thinking about how many powerhouses of thrash were within a 60 meter radius of me. I was just trying to soak in the metal energy.

There are some almost progressive rock elements in the new album. What was the idea behind Ride the Void?

There wasn’t a set goal or anything. We started writing and seeing what floated to the surface of what we liked. There were a couple of songs from the Crisis in Utopia writing session that we wanted to put on that album but we didn’t have the time to finish. As everything started to take shape it was a lot heavier and darker.  From all the touring and just being tighter as a band we have been able to bring in more prog elements. We aren’t trying to be Dream Theater but it is nice to be able to pull off some more of the progressive stuff we try to slip in without overdoing it or getting in the way of the vocals.

How do you go about writing songs? For instance, your songs really seem to focus on the vocals unlike so much metal where the vocals seem like an afterthought.

Well first, thanks. That is awesome to hear. But only one song on this album started with the vocals. Most of the stuff is just like a lot of riffs that I kind of flooded everyone with, and we picked our favorites. Alex (Lee) our new guitarist brought in some songs. We put vocals on top of it but this time around when we put on the vocal melody we went back and changed the music a little so it wasn’t trampling the vocals.

Which guitarist got you into playing guitar?

I really was always into metal but I only ever thought I would be able to strum some chords. Once I got a guitar, I was obsessed with it. It is funny the one who got me wanting to be a lead player was Kirk Hammett. The big moment when I went from being a pentatonic rock player like Hammett was when I had a guitar teacher show me Yngwie (Malmsteen). That was a huge turning point.  I became obsessed with shredding. I just wanted to play as fast as I could. Dave Mustaine (Metallica, Megadeth) was a big influence as far as riff writing. Within that, Marty Friedman (Megadeth) is just crazy. Then I got into Cacophony. Dimebag (Darrell of Pantera), just in style and everything. Stevie Ray Vaughn was a big one for me. Lately it has been Paul Gilbert (Racer X, Mr. Big). He made me want to get more precise and stop being such a sloppy shredder that I was.

How do you go about fusing those sorts of guitar hero influences with death metal and metalcore?

We kind of just go about it by not thinking about it. We just want to make it exciting, and what works in the song in the moment. It keeps it from sounding contrived and that keeps us from falling into boring metalcore.

For people who haven’t seen Holy Grail what should they expect?

A lot of energy! We go for it. We don’t just have a recital.  One-hundred-and-ten percent at every show. No matter how hungover we are or haven’t slept. Expect to headbang.

So you guys have now put out two solid albums but are still coming up. Your sound harkens to when metal was one of the most popular genres and the big bands were giant rock stars.  What has been your most rock star moment?

Probably playing the Soundwave festival in Australia and Vinnie Paul (drummer for Pantera) took us out to dinner and we got really drunk. Vinnie didn’t even finish the dinner. Bam Margera and some of the other CKY guys were there and we went out with them to some bars. Bam got in a fight on my watch, so that was my most rockstar, celebrity-esque moment. I didn’t realize how weird it was until I was retelling the story days later.

Do you have anything you want to say to your fans?

Yeah, keep coming out to shows. Keep buying records. We will keep coming out and thrashing hard. In the immortal words of Raven, “Stay hard, stay wet.”

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