Gospel Of The Shred: Holy Grail, Exmortus & Spellcaster Scorch The Roxy

By Andrew Bansal


August 7th 2016, The Roxy, West Hollywood CA: Three of the brightest young talented groups in metal and Prosthetic Records label mates Holy Grail, Exmortus and Spellcaster joined forces for the ‘Fellowship Of The Strings’ U.S. tour this summer, to bring their distinct brands of guitar-oriented/shred metal to the masses. The four-week trek began in mid-July and came to an end last night in Holy Grail and Exmortus’ hometown, at the Roxy in West Hollywood. These three bands have played in and around the Los Angeles area numerous times in the past, but separately and never together in an all-ages venue of this magnitude. Choosing what show to attend on any given night of the week is, more often than not, an extremely serious dilemma for LA concertgoers, and one learns from personal experience that the eventual choice made is often the wrong one. But even with four-fifths of Judas Priest performing next door at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, metal diehards turned up in reasonably good numbers to support this event at the Roxy, and were treated to a show that more than vindicated their choice of Sunday evening live entertainment.

Doors opened at 7, and fans that were already lined up outside the venue beforehand quickly occupied the front few rows. The Roxy had once again taken the easy way out when it came to decorating their marquee, and only had Holy Grail’s name on it instead of all three bands. But thankfully, unlike the recent Carcass show here, the airport-style security measures were not enforced this time, and entering the venue for this show was a much swifter and more pleasant experience. All three bands were sharing the entire backline as well as the drumkit, so the set changes were expected to be short, and there was no need for the Roxy to use their stage curtain.

At 8 PM, Portland, Oregon quintet Spellcaster took the stage to begin proceedings with their blend of old-school speed metal and shred, but with a decidedly more melodic flavor to it as compared to the two bands that would follow them, which certainly caught first-timers’ attention here. The audience was clearly impressed by what they saw and heard, and the turnout for Spellcaster’s 30-minute set was, in fact, better than usual for the first band here at the Roxy. They played songs off of their July 2016 full-length release ‘Night Hides The World’ as well as their 2014 self-titled, and took it back to the early days with ‘Chainsaw Champion’ off of the 2011 debut LP ‘Under The Spell’, which is still the most recognizable and loved Spellcaster tune, and was one of the highlights of the set along with newer tracks like ‘Ghost Of My Memory’ and ‘Betrayal’. These dudes have certainly got the look and sound of an old-school heavy metal band that fans of the genre should fall in love with, and with their skillfully crafted tunes filled to the brim with shred and melody, to go with the highly energetic live performance and strong stage presence, they won over this crowd.


Spellcaster set list:
01. I Live Again
02. Ghost Of My Memory
03. Betrayal
04. Night Hides The World
05. Chainsaw Champion
06. The Accuser

Shortly after, Whittier, California neoclassical death-thrash shred masters Exmortus hit the stage all guns blazing with the inimitably excellent ‘Immortality Made Flesh’, and only went from strength to strength as they progressed rapidly through their 9-song, 45-minute set. This was the longest Exmortus set their Los Angeles fans had ever witnessed, and with not a single dull moment in it whatsoever, it also turned out to be their best LA performance till date. Exmortus certainly won the battle of the t-shirts at this show as the majority of the attendees were wearing Exmortus shirts, and they also induced the most number of mosh pits. Having toured relentlessly this year, first in support of Warbringer and Enforcer, then with Amon Amarth and Entombed A.D. and now on this run with Holy Grail and Spellcaster, Exmortus is a well-oiled machine at this point, and it showed through this set. But with this being a much longer set than what they did on those tours, it went through multiple shifts in mood and tempo, from shredfests like ‘Immortality Made Flesh’, ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and ‘Axes Of War’, to death-thrash masterclasses like ‘Foe Hammer’ and ‘For The Horde’, to a relatively more tech death metal sound on ‘Death To Tyrants’ and ‘War Gods’, and of course, their signature epic singalong set-closer, ‘Metal Is King’. Vocalist/guitarist Jadran ‘Conan’ Gonzalez (not Rodriguez, as wrongly mentioned in the weekly newspaper) and his six-string partner-in-crime David Rivera proved themselves as high-class musicians, and the experienced rhythm section of Michael Cosio (bass) and Mario Moreno (drums) provided solid support.


Aside from the wizardry of their original tunes, Exmortus also had a special surprise in store, as they brought on Holy Grail singer James Paul Luna and switched their bassist with Gabe Franco of Spellcaster to put forth a splendid rendition of Judas Priest’s ‘Freewheel Burning’. The audience collectively lost their minds, as they should have. Exmortus have been around for 14 years and have consistently released noteworthy music and put on great live shows, but went unnoticed for the longest time. They are finally getting the recognition they thoroughly deserve, and attendees would look back at this show as the metamorphosis of something truly great and special.

Exmortus set list:
01. Immortality Made Flesh
02. Foe Hammer
03. For The Horde
04. Death To Tyrants
05. War Gods
06. Axes Of War
07. Moonlight Sonata (Act 3)
08. Freewheel Burning (Judas Priest cover) feat. James Paul Luna & Gabe Franco
09. Metal Is King

Lastly, at 10 PM, Holy Grail appeared on stage, and it was their turn to play their longest set they’ve ever done in LA, clocking in at close to 90 minutes. Exmortus is always a tough act to follow, as bands much bigger and more popular have discovered of late, but the Holy Grail guys were up to the challenge and proved their worth as the headliners of this package. This was perhaps the first time since the January 2016 release of their third LP ‘Times Of Pride And Peril’ that they got the opportunity to play a proper headline set and get to serve a detailed and accurate representation of their musical repertoire, as they played a good number of tunes off of each album, and compiled a great set list that flowed seamlessly. From their beginnings of straight-up traditional metal to their present-day guitar-oriented approach, this performance had it all, and the band’s longtime as well as newfound fans loved every minute of it in equal measure. The songwriting brilliance of this band perhaps goes somewhat unappreciated, and one cannot praise them enough for expanding their horizons and pushing it to the limit whilst still keeping their traditional metal roots intact. While guitarists Eli Santana and Alex Lee turn up the heat and melt faces with their six-string exploits and the rhythm section of Tyler Meahl (drums) and Blake Mount (bass) keeps hammering away in a unique classic metal-meets-modern metal style, singer James Paul Luna keeps the old-school element intact with his clean singing, roof-shattering high-pitched screams and stage outfits. If these ingredients don’t constitute the recipe for the perfect heavy metal band, nothing does.

Holy Grail singer James Paul Luna keeping the metal horns raised high
Holy Grail singer James Paul Luna keeping the metal horns raised high

This Holy Grail set had more variety than ever before, with relentlessly fast, thrashing, mosh-pit inducing tunes like ‘Fight To Kill’, ‘My Last Attack’ and ‘Crosswinds’, slow, ultra-heavy jam ‘Those Who Will Remain’ (the highlight of the set in this writer’s opinion), the ballad ‘Rains Of Sorrow’, fist-raising singalongs ‘Call Of Valhalla’ and ‘No More Heroes’, songs such as ‘Black Lotus’, ‘Ride The Void’ and ‘Descent Into The Maelstrom’ that showcase the band’s melodic side, and of course, a whole range of guitar-centric tunes. The focus on the guitar duo was not limited to the songs alone, as they faced off in a guitar duel in the middle of the set. Santana and Lee called upon Bryce Vanhoosen of Spellcaster and Conan of Exmortus to join their respective teams and indulge in a guitar battle. This lasted for nearly 10 minutes as sparks flew off the four instruments, and the crowd fully enjoyed it, as the result was an amicable tie. The band’s on-stage energy was as excellent as ever, but the crowd interaction was better than it’s been in the past, as Luna got the entire crowd to sing ‘No More Heroes’ and the guitarists urged fans to take sides during the battle.And as if all this wasn’t already enough of a bang for the paying audience’s buck, Holy Grail also paid homage to one of their favorite bands and major inspirations, Witchfinder General, with a heartfelt cover of ‘I Lost You’. A complete set by a complete heavy metal band.

Alex Lee (L) & Eli Santana of Holy Grail engaged in a guitar duel
Alex Lee (L) & Eli Santana of Holy Grail engaged in a guitar duel

Besides the highly skillful musicianship of the three bands, the unity amongst them was quite evident at this show, through the Judas Priest cover collaboration, the guitar battle, and some end-of-tour moments as witnessed on stage. Members of Spellcaster joined Holy Grail on stage for the ‘Fight To Kill’ chorus even as they chugged whiskey down Blake Mount’s throat, and to bring the show to an apt end, both Spellcaster and Exmortus, as well as members of Witchaven and Warbringer who were in the audience, invaded the stage. This kind of unity in bands touring together is unfortunately very rare, and this writer’s own experience on the road would tell you that the sense of competition is too intense and people take themselves too seriously. Not the case with this package, as their camaraderie made it a fun show for them as well as for the audience.

This was by far one of the most enjoyable metal shows to have come through Los Angeles in a long time, and one that left fans with ringing ears, spinning brains, aching bodies and sweat-drenched clothes like no other show has, of late. One cannot forget to mention that the Roxy is hands down the best venue any of these bands have ever played in this town, and the importance of all-ages shows for bands playing a style of music that appeals more to the under-21 metalheads cannot be stressed enough.

Overall, Holy Grail, Exmortus and Spellcaster’s ‘Fellowship Of The Strings’ indeed emerged triumphant, and the sequel is already awaited.

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Holy Grail set list:
01. Crystal King
02. Crosswinds
03. Call Of Valhalla
04. No More Heroes
05. Fight To Kill
06. Sudden Death
07. Guitar Battle
08. Too Decayed to Wait
09. Those Who Will Remain
10. Rains of Sorrow
11. I Lost You (Witchfinder General cover)
12. Black Lotus
13. Ride The Void
14. Descent Into The Maelstrom
15. My Last Attack