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Sunday Old School: Holy Dragons

Over the course of the Sunday Old School series, we’ve examined veteran metal bands from all across the world. From Aria in Russia, to Septicflesh and Rotting Christ of Greece, to Austria’s Belphegor, a Chilean band called Pentagram and another band called Pentagram (or Mezarkabul, if you prefer,) from Turkey. Speaking of Turkey, did you know that Turks are part of a larger group of people classified as Turkic? Another ethnicity that’s a member of this collective is the Kazakhs. In case you haven’t put two and two together yet, this week we’ll be expanding our map by taking a look at a metal band from Kazakhstan for the first time and their name is Holy Dragons.

The band was formed in 1992 in the then capital city of Almaty, (it was replaced as capital in 1997 by Astana,) by guitarist, Jurgen Thunderson, who was joined initially in his endeavour by singer Oleg "Holger" Komaroff. They set out to bring make music like that of their heavy metal heroes such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and in doing so, became one of, if not the first metal band Kazakhstan had produced. Keeping a stable lineup proved to be something of a difficult task, with Thunderson remaining the sole constant member.

Eventually, the band were able to keep a lineup long enough to record a demo album, "Halloween Night," which they released in 1996 before joining up with Iris Records to release their debut album, "Dragon Steel" in 1997. The group couldn't have displayed their influence any more on their album cover, which consisted of the five band members holding up a Union Jack. What the album showed sonically, was a talented collective of musicians (although vocalist Anders Kaban came in for some stick from foreign listeners,) performing solid heavy metal, on a record which, as some might expect, was blighted by poor production.

Although "Dragon Steel" was their last release with Kaban, bassist Gil Sheffield and drummer Simon, (being replaced by Daniel Tron, Steven Drejko and Seva Sabbath respectively,) their next album, "Dragon's Ballads,") was in fact released the same year as their debut. It spawned a music video for the song, "Christmas Time," and was released independently, as was their third album, "House of the Winds" in 1999. By this point, Sabbath had left the band and Thunderson handled the drums himself. It was certainly a much more polished representation of the band, with far better art work and a shorter track listing of more polished songs.

Only a year later, Holy Dragons teamed up with Polish record label, Dragonight Records to release their fourth album, "Thunder in the Night," in which the drums were once again recorded by Jurgern Thunderson. The record contained some solid production work which represented a much clearer sound than some of their previous work, which was brought up soon after this album's release via a compilation album entitled, "The Best," which was followed by another compilation, "Rage of the Dragon Lords," only the next year. That same year, a demo EP, "Warlock" was released before their next album, "Sudniy Den'" was recorded in 2002, being released in January 2003.

"Sudniy Den'" started a long running trend for the band of naming their records in their native tongue and also saw the debut of new singer, Holger Komarov, as well as their first full length as a trio, following the departure of Steven Drejko, leading Thunderson to handle bass duties, as well as guitar and drums on the album, though second guitarist Chris Caine remained. Their decision to use Russian for album titles was displayed again on their sixth album, "Sumerki Bogov," released in November of the same year. It received some of the best feedback of their career to date, with some fans pointing to it as their best work and introduced fans to another new member, bassist Chris Larson, though he only lasted for this album.

With the "Sudniy Den'" lineup in tow, Holy Dragons once again released two albums in the same year. In fact, both "Obitel Vetrov" and "Polunochniy Grom" were released on the same day, October 31st, appropriately enough. Neither album proved to be particularly impressive, with fans criticising the dull use of a drum machine and an overall lack of creativity, though given the choice, most listeners seem to favour "Polunochniy Grom."

Seemingly as a counter to this criticism, Holy Dragons released a much better received album, "Volki Odina," only four months later. It contained arguably their best production up to that point and was praised for displaying a grittier style of power metal than the likes of Blind Guardian., which was carried over to the next album, "Voshod Chyornoy Luny," which garnered some excellent feedback, rivaling the praise they earned for "Sumerki Bogov." These two records appeared to be part of a trilogy of fan favourites, which was concluded in 2007 with the release of "Labirint Illyuziy."

Holy Dragons were then dealt a massive blow when Holger Komarov stepped down as the band's vocalist. The talented singer was replaced by a frontman known only as The Zerstörer, who made his recording debut with the band on the album, "Iron Mind," which they released as a free download. He became something of a mainstay, appearing further on "Zerstörer - The Chapters of World War III," before sharing vocal duties with previous singer, Holger Komarov on the "Runaway 12" album. This was to be his final release with Holy Dragons, as he was replaced by Ian Breeg, an associate of Rhapsody of Fire members, Oliver and Alex Holzwarth, soon after.

Bizarrely, the only album Breeg recorded with the band was entitled, "Zerstörer," before being replaced by Alexandr Kuligin, who made his recording debut with the band on last year's "Dragon Inferno" art work, which featured two session vocalists, Sergey Zubkov and Artemij Ryabovol. Given their reputation of releasing albums close together, it wouldn't be a wild guess to assume that the time is drawing near for Kazakhstan's metal ambassadors to record and release a new album, one which will further cement them as one of their homelands greatest hidden treasures.

Holy Dragons - "Holy Dragons"

Holy Dragons - "Christmas Time"

Holy Dragons - "Steel for the Steel"

Holy Dragons - "Turbo 911"

Holy Dragons - "Knights of Camelot"

Holy Dragons - "Iron Eagle"

Holy Dragons - "Ragnarok"

Holy Dragons - "Bullet and Bayonet Steel"

Holy Dragons - "Doomsday Angels"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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