Valkyrie
Shadows

Virginian, dual axe demons Valkyrie are back with this phenom of an album, their 3rd full-length to date and first for Relapse.  I make no bones or excuses about loving these guys to death.  I’ve seen them live thrice and they deliver more signed n’ sealed explosives than the Unabomber did in his heyday.  Guitar brothers Jake Adams and Pete Adams (Baroness, Samhain live, though this was where he was slamming it first) are like the Dead Ringers of purely classic, straight from the heart heavy metal.  The interplay between their 6-string licks and vocal telepathy is a sight for sore eyes.  Rounded out by the quick sticks n’ proficient time-keeping of long-time drummer Warren Hawkins and the solar low-end groove of bassist Alan Fary, these guys are trouble and a helluva good time rolled into a spliff that the Green Giant would be afraid to smoke.

It’s been seven long years since their last LP (the magnificent Man of Two Visions), and Shadows unleashes without a doubt the best songs, performances and production on a Valkyrie recording ever.  If I was an officer of the law I might have to arrest people for not liking this.  The roots of metal are right here, the influences of the late 60s and 70s guitar heroes on this band are stronger than the musk of 10,000 oxen.  You’ll hear touches of Sabbath, Wishbone Ash, Lizzy, Pentagram, Priest, Maiden, Deep Purple, Mountain, Cream and Captain Beyond to more modern inspiration drawn from the hefty, organic doom of Spirit Caravan, Internal Void, Unorthodox, Revelation and Life Beyond…  These sodbusters get on top you from the very first note and ride you into the ground like Ol’ Paint.

“Mountain Stomp” is the penultimate opener; hard and heavy with the careful tempering of a master blacksmith.  The riff is the kind you roll out the red carpet for…kingly stuff.  It’s an elder God groove tipping the hat to Tony Iommi/Victor Griffin with soulful, conquering leads calling to mind Scott Gorham/Andy Powell.  When Hawkins isn’t clutching the beat in the pocket like a big wad of cash and then spreading across his kit with a spider’s web of intricately bashed, snare/tom fills n’ fluxes that keeps the composition busy.  Fary commands the legion forward in big, bluesy bass lunges that are mixed just right thanks to the always reliable control room calculations of Sanford Parker.  Jake’s lead vocals are always a highlight and his advance in age has left him with a deep, powerful croon that’s belted from the toes.  Pete joins Jake in all of the right spots for harmonic, mic wrangling grandeur as they trade shots leading, riffing and soloing like they came out of the womb with guitars in hand.  Warren sends the tempo into lightspeed overdrive with a brazen, old school metal rush at 2:42, joined by The Adams’ musketeer duel of heavenly harmonies that reach a calamitous climax of complexity the longer they battle for bragging rights.

The lurching, loping riff that intros “Golden Age” is heavy as hell yet beautifully caught in the flow of triumphant harmonies born of Maryland doom’s spiritual plunder.  Alan’s groove thickness is a focal point (often straying from the guitar with a couple of extra notes) and his teamwork with Hawkin’s jazzy, lightning fast snare triplets and fill-work makes more kinetic movements than the constant teleportation of the Enterprise crew.  Riffs often extend into leads via the second guitar while those churning, heaving power-chords are all blue-eyed soul in the fine tradition of Spirit Caravan or any of Wino’s precious gems for that matter.  The rise and fall of Jake’s lead vocals transport him to some of the highest plateaus in his arsenal and Pete rides valiantly by his brother’s side with harmonic counterpoints.  A mid-section instrumental detour traverses craggy pathways on the fretboards, where one false step sends you hurtling into the jaws of Lizzy-esque dualisms or a baptism by fire solo workout.  The ending is an exercise in juicy, lard-greased wah-pedal righteousness, sticking to the ribs and filling the belly with bloody raw, rock n’ roll satisfaction that would appease a starving Donner Party.

That wandering, adventurous feel of Wishbone Ash’s most lush works circa Argus is present on the roaming “Temple.”  There’s a progressive feel mingled with the blues thanks to a heart-breaker of a lead crying out for mercy as the bass drum plunges in the knife and Fary digs into a progg-y wraparound groove eulogy.  When the riff throws its tarot card of death into the game, it’s a last rite statement if I’ve heard one.  The arrangement materializes the image of escaping a desert without water as a squadron of buzzards are hot on your trail…thinking you’re not going to come out of the ordeal with your life you stumble onto a sprawling jungle sanctuary, thankful that revitalization and healing are now in your imminent future.  No instrumental boulder is left unturned; a caravan of melodic lead/harmony interplay, marauding packs of cutthroat doom riffs, solos that communicate greater knowledge than any amount of written words and rhythms informed by the great manna handed down from Zeus himself.  Hard-rock doesn’t get no harder and vintage metal doesn’t get more vintage…this doesn’t attempt to be “retro” for kitschy, trendy intent…it simply is not of this time.

Picking a standout on this record is no easy task because all of the material is exceptional, but the fuckin’ ridiculously heavy “Shadow of Reality” might be the Grand Guignol.  You can’t fuck with this track, ‘cause it’ll fuck back.  The melody hasn’t gone off to pasture, but the riff centerpiece is a terra firma shatterer so goddamned dense it creates its own gravitational pull.  It’s got so much muscle it plays basketball with the sun and uses the ocean as a thirst quencher.  Everybody is locked into the jam and the leadwork culls a bluesy, southern rock twang befitting of Hydra and The Outlaws (see 2:49).  Quite frankly, this is the hands down masterpiece of Valkyrie’s career.  “Wintry Plains,” a song the boys wrote many moons ago, opens with Alan laying down a bestial riff of his own before the Adams’ coalition goes into a dirty dealin’, double Sabbath riff freakout.  An unexpected psychedelic calm phases into existence at 3:50, catapulting this sucker into the stratosphere, before blowing peaceful ears to shreds with vaporizing, laser powered doom grooves and trip-out solos that lace the finale with landmine tripwires.  I’m damn near depleted of my adjective surplus as both the review and the album reaches for closure with the curtain call couplet, “Echoes (Of the Way we Lived)” and “Carry On.”  Why push the pen any further when you’ve used all of your ink?  Let’s just say these songs deserve as many commendations as a war hero that singlehandedly saved an entire platoon from the enemy’s onslaught.

Shadows is easily the greatest, most authentic metal/hard-rock throwback you’re going to hear this year.  These guys do it right and then some.  It’s in a five-way tie alongside Corsair’s One Eyed Horse, Thousand Vision Mist’s demo, Contra’s Son of Beast EP and King Bison’s Self Titled full-length.  This album has few peers or equals when it comes to NAILING the sound of the golden era.  Highly, highly recommended stuff which has me chomping at the bit to get into action and catch Valkyrie in the live setting again.  It’s been too long brothers…my fault, not yours.  Until that day comes, I’ll be listening to this baby at dangerous volumes.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
June 29th, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: Juan Manuel Pinto

    Agreed. People should be arrested for not liking this.


  2. Commented by: Jay

    Thanks for the comment and hat tip Juan! I mean this is just classic stuff. It really takes it all the way back to metal’s roots without ever sounding hackneyed. These guys just have the authenticity in their sound that not everybody can harness. They play hard as hell live, live the music and are super cool to their supporters. Every release so far has been great (Man of Two Visions is especially excellent), but this for me was next level.


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