Atkins May Project
Valley of Shadows

Think back four decades; just try it. You may recall that Al Atkins fronted Judas Priest during those ancient times and even penned one of the band’s all-time classic songs: “Victim of Changes.” Not bad, eh? Though his stint with one of Birmingham’s finest heavy metal units is more than notable achievement to include on one’s resume, it’s not the only thing Atkins has done with his musical career, which also includes the release of six solo albums and work fronting Holy Rage. A few years back Atkins was an integral part of the Atkins May Project debut album Serpent’s Kiss, which also featured the considerable talents of guitarist Paul May (hence, Atkins May). Said album was solid, meat and potatoes heavy metal with a British blues underpinning, which pretty much all the classic UK heavy metal acts have, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest included.

And that brings us to sophomore Atkins May Project album Valley of Shadows, which is no major departure from its predecessor, but is nevertheless a more cohesive, better produced (also the work of Paul May) effort. Much like the act’s name would imply it is the mid-range, rough ‘n crusty Akins vocal approach and some pretty versatile, goddamn electric riffs and leads from May that constitute the guts of the new long player. Atkins’ vocals are somewhat of acquired taste, although I happen to find his gritty approach a much-needed point of distinction, not to mention soulful in a broad sort of way.

What you get musically is a combination of mid and up-tempo classic heavy metal tunes, flecked with classy melodies and rife with blazing solos for the lion’s share of the disc. “Welcome to the Nightmare” and “Stronger than Grace” are the meat and potatoes up-tempo numbers, while mid-paced groovers like “Harder they Fall” and “Not Ready to Die” are more memorable from the standpoint of melody. Then you get a quartet of cuts that give the album its variety. “No Ordinary Man” benefits from a more pronounced hard rockin’ blues-basis, as does “Bitter Waters,” which works well with the integration of swampy acoustic guitar. May’s wah-wah work on “Enslaved to Love” is a primary reason the track tends to stand out with repeat spins. The far mellower and rather dark/dreary title track is solid. Pairing it with closer “The Shallowing (Return)” offers the listener an effective comedown and fade-out after the metallic muscle of the preceding tracks. The latter song is connected to “The Shallowing” that appeared on the debut, which moves in a direction most metallic and muscular.

Valley of Shadows probably won’t change your life. It would however be a fine addition to the collection of most fans of traditional heavy metal, especially those with a broader base of knowledge of and appreciation for the beloved genre. I’d give it one-and-a-half thumbs up if it were it not for the necessity of disfigurement to make such a rating reality. It’s a pretty good record. How’s that?

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Scott Alisoglu
February 8th, 2013

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