The Courage to Be

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Having proved to skeptical heavy metal pundits that they were far from irrelevant with 1997's surprisingly legitimate Covenant album, New Wave of British Heavy Metal stalwarts Holocaust set out to stump them once again with its follow-up, Courage to Be, three years later. Handily out-performing its predecessor and most every expectation, the album combined superior songwriting, increased stylistic eclecticism, and abnormally deep lyrics (largely based on the book of the same name by noted theologian Paul Tillich) into a bona fide career rebirth for the long-suffering Scotsmen. Although not a religious sermon by any stretch, energetic album opener "The Collective," sets the ball rolling with a divinely inspired melding of Eastern-styled acoustic guitars and driving, whirlwind power chords, recalling the exotic holy land metal of Israel's Orphaned Land. Ensuing sketches like "A Gentleman's Penny" and the two-part "When Penelope Dreams" carry on with the same thematic resonance, but don't necessarily qualify this as a concept album; plus, the music speaks too well for itself to necessitate any fancy wordplay. Indeed, additional highlights such as "Fundamentalist" and "The Age of Reason" come absolutely stacked with great riffs -- an embarrassment of riches, you might say -- which will remind one and all why even the mighty Metallica often cite Holocaust as a key influence. Ok, so the decision to mar an otherwise solid track like "Spanner Omlette" with the silly title and sillier middle-eight is a questionable one, but all things considered, Courage to Be is a remarkable achievement for a band who had been given up for dead over a decade earlier.

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