Call it what you will—doom metal, stoner rock, heavy psych, heavy metal—Portland has no shortage of metal bands with slow tempos, wailing vocals, swinging drums and chugging guitar and bass.
It's difficult to stand out in such an overcrowded scene, but Holy Grove manages. On their second album, the Portland four-piece displays such dedication to the craft of slogging metal and all its subgenres that they don't have to rely on gimmicks or additional genre crossovers to cast their lot among the elite.
Holy Grove II, only the band's second studio album in their six-year history, feels like the product of patient composition. It's not just that the songs are longer than those on the band's 2016 self-titled record, they're also more quicksilver, more natural and less abrupt. Each song's melodic pulse, provided by guitarist-synth player Trent Jacobs and bassist Gregg Emley, is usually based on a central pattern or theme, but it never gets dull or plodding. The tempo will subtly shift, a harmonized guitar lick will rise from the monolithic riff, and the entire tone of the song changes. Holy Grove II manages to convey a variety of moods while never straying from its songs' interconnected vibes.
If you've ever caught Holy Grove live, it's likely vocalist Andrea Vidal first drew your attention. Not only is her singing almost absurdly dextrous—she can reach cathedral ceilings or slither along gravelly floors—but her stage presence is captivating. She looks like she's having a blast and refreshingly lacks the creepy, grim posturing that often weighs down self-serious metal vocalists.
But Vidal's charisma was somewhat lost on Holy Grove's debut. Her vocals were often muddied by unnecessarily loud multitracks, which effectively sapped the palpable confidence of her live performances. On Holy Grove II, her overdubs are rarer and seem more purposeful. If there's one major improvement on the band's second album, it's that Holy Grove was able to capture Vidal's energy, which can bowl you over at their concerts.
Holy Grove II also shows the band is outpacing their blues-based early stylings and forging into trippier territory without losing their heads. The album's synthy closer, "Cosmos," which features a stellar cameo by Yob's Mike Scheidt, recalls King Crimson and Hawkwind. The Dark Crystal-inspired "Valley of the Mystics" indulges every metal fan's inner fantasy nerd.
But the album isn't overindulgent—"Aurora," its shortest song, is a cowbell-led, meat-and-potatoes rocker that brings to mind hard-rock heroes like Mountain and Blue Öyster Cult. No matter what corner of the metal-verse you prefer, Holy Grove II will get you there.
SEE IT: Holy Grove plays Tonic Lounge, 3100 NE Sandy Blvd., tonicloungeportland.com, on Saturday, Nov. 24.
8:30 pm. $10. 21+.