I was a little surprised when I saw a new Holy Moses album being released in 2023, but I was also a very happy chappy indeed, because I loved what these guys were doing in the late eighties and I'd no idea at all that they were still around. It turns out that they continued until 1994, perhaps due to the changes wrought by grunge in the States not being quite so emphatic in Europe, and stayed gone until the new millennium, reforming in 2000 and adding five albums to the seven they put out during their original incarnation. However, this is their first in nine years, a long gap indeed for a generally prolific band.
Holy Moses play thrash metal in the Teutonic style, rooted in speed metal with rough but not harsh vocals. hardly surprising given that they're a German band from Aachen. I remember liking them a lot but I haven't heard them in decades and this reminds me just how unusual they were. For one, I remember them getting much more technical than many of their peers, with intricate guitarwork and instrumental passages that put them more in parity with Sieges Even and Mekong Delta than Destruction and Kreator. For another, they had a female vocalist, Sabina Classen, who's the one and only constant in the band throughout its lifetime.
Now, she wasn't alone, given that Doro was pioneering heavy female vocals with Warlock, but she was much rougher in delivery and became quite the pioneer, along with Ann Boleyn, Debbie Gunn and the late Dawn Crosby in the States. She's certainly one of the invisible queens of metal, from a time long before Angela Gossow shocked the world in 2000 when she took over as the lead vocalist of Arch Enemy, and she's sounding on the top of her game here. I ought to dive back into The New Machine of Liechtenstein after this review, with Finished with the Dogs as a tasty chaser. And then I should catch up with the far too many albums I haven't heard.
This sounds like Holy Moses from the outset, but a little more so in almost every regard. Classen is a little harsher than I remember, but not by much. Maybe she's just benefitting from 21st century production, given that the albums I loved are around thirty-five years old now and technology has moved on massively. The guitars, here played by Peter Geltat, seem more biting and more urgent, with possibly the same cause. Gerd Lücking keeps a little faster pace on drums, which is never bad in my book. I always like my thrash fast, even though Holy Moses manage midpace sections neatly as well.
The biggest difference between this and my possibly faulty memory is just how overt the basswork of Thomas Neitsch is. Like Geltat, he used to play for a thrash band from Berlin called Desilence, so may have brought him into the band, and they work together well. There are moments here where it sounds like he firmly believes that he's playing lead, which I'm never upset to hear a bass player do. The early gem is Cult of the Machine and he's all over that song like a rash, with a peach of an encore in Order Out of Chaos, before continuing in this vein throughout the album.
And, while I might prefer Cult of the Machine, Order Out of Chaos may be the defining song of the current state of Holy Moses. There are points where it feels like it's going to veer so wildly out of control that it's going to fail horribly any moment now, what with Neitsch soloing in one direction and Geltat in another, but it never does because these guys know exactly what they're doing and the result is something that had me throwing up my arms in admiration. It really is what it says on the label—order out of chaos—and that's the defining message of the album. Invisible Queen is a worthy and appropriate title, but Order Out of Chaos may have been better still.
There's a lot more to come, because the title track shows up next and that's only marks a third of the way through a dozen songs. What's more, there's an edition with a second disc that covers all the same ground but with guest vocalists. I haven't listened to it yet because I'm concentrating on the album proper, but I will because it features a teasing list of replacements for the one constant in the band, an interesting approach indeed.
The most obvious are fellow German thrash legends, Tom Angelripper and Andreas Geremia from Sodom and Tankard respectively, but Bobby Ellsworth of Overkill and Jens Kidman of Meshuggah get a track each too, and there's a string of modern female vocalists who owe plenty to Classen's blazing of the trail, like Marloes Voskuil of Izegrim (now Haliphron), Diva Satanica of Bloodhunter, Rægina of Dæmonesq and, most obviously, Dani Karrer of German thrash band Headshot.
Not everything is up to those openers and I'd say that the most obvious highlights all arrive early on the album, but nothing lets the side down and everything is enjoyable and refreshing, with so many other German thrash bands making firm departures from their sound lately. This sounds like Holy Moses throughout and it's agreeably uncompromising about that. Outcasts and Too Far Gone are the closest on the second side to matching the early highlights of the first. Like the Choose the Juice album before it, I think I have to go with an 8/10 here, because it's definitely closer to it than it is to a 7. And I think it's growing on me more with each listen. Welcome back, folks!