The eldest trees creak loudest when hit by strengthening winds — Knowing the old ways, cherishing those most ancient works imbues they steadfast yet flexible folk, who’d know doom and rock by their bound impetus, with a modus that yet stands tall. As skill-set and life experience expand in tandem (and beyond belief) so does the potential for all woods to be trampled, hope to be lost, and armageddon to sink in. With all things decent gone to dust and tasteless crumb what greater defiance of all manner of darkness, and the inevitable shoulder-slumping failures that’ll follow, than a re-ignition of warmest most traditional fare through brand new emblazoned eyesight? That is to say it’s been a while since Harrisonburg, Virginia-borne doom/heavy rockers Valkyrie stunned us with their Mark II moment ‘Shadows‘ and this next feat, ‘Fear’, sinks in on a deeper level — Wherein the world has changed drastically for those born and dying in the moment whilst the cyclical history of it all bends around most familiar, darkest turns accordingly. Wizened is the right way to describe the impression they’ve left, not old or dated but worn and honed at once into a better, most capable heavy rock experience.

Valkyrie had long been one of those bands folks were prone to bring up on two different occasions, the first is the traditional doom metal fan namedropping something that’d been obscure but broadly acceptable to anyone with a bit of Thin Lizzy or Maiden in their blood. The second and more common recommendation would come from Baroness fans who’d dug deep enough into side-projects or related works to have noticed guitarist Pete Adams‘ involvement in the group. The band proper had formed in 2002 as a trio centering around the vision of vocalist/guitarist Jake Adams who’d see many revisions of Valkyrie‘s rhythm section prior to 2012. For my own purposes, I’ll suggest the 2004-2012 activity of the band to be their Mark I era, slightly more focused on their stoney NWOBHM-era heavy/doom metal origins and metal progenitor hard rock influences. Their first album (‘Valkyrie‘, 2006) was immediately impressive, making sharp use of late 70’s Thin Lizzy influenced guitar and vocal harmonies which’d become signature moves for the project as the second full-length (‘Man of Two Visions‘, 2007) took a more pushy, insistent stoner-metallic stance. This era of the band reminds me somewhat of earlier Pale Divine and Spirit Caravan records, just a bit lighter on the guitar pedals — Ornate and sometimes complex guitar runs and Maiden-esque leads were often accompanied by riffs with a distinct “Emerald”-esque prowess. It’d been a sweet spot, a point of mushrooming doom/heavy metal (or, I’d called ’em proto-doom metal along with Ogre) bliss where soulful and swaggering doom-rock pieces rang as optimistic as they were heavy. After Pete joined popular sludge rock band Baroness for a decade long run circa 2008 Valkyrie largely fell silent until about 2012 where a steady line-up would form, pulling in drummer Warren Hawkins (Big Dixie, Mass Sabbath) and Jake‘s (then) bandmate in metalpunk thrashers Earthling Alan Fary on bass. This new Mark II line-up would grow like weeds in the wild and without any major rush for a release until Pete neared the decision to leave Baroness.

The aforementioned ‘Shadows’ (2015) was the result and it’d be the point where I’d awakened to the sound of Valkyrie personally despite having their first two records recommended by quite a few people starting around 2012. That third album had to go up a whole pant-size due to its more detailed, heavier jammed soul for songwriting, its harmonies deeper harmonized alongside a louder and out of control production sound. “Shadow of Reality” still hits me to this day both as a great piece but a hint and a notion where they were going to go on ‘Fear’ where a bit more of their ‘pre-‘Chinatown’ Lizzy swinging would creep in, and you’ll hear even more of the bop rhythm and wailing double leads on “Echoes (Of the Ways We Lived)”. ‘Fear’ is very much a continuation and a refinement of what ‘Shadows’ was attempting — it finds Valkyrie polishing every signature element that makes them, them, while building up more soulfully connected bluesy spiritus. Aiming for the varietal heart-on-a-sleeve feeling of classic heavy rock while minding the five year gap meant a natural balance of the good ol’ Valkyrie we know and even more of their proto-metal and southern rock plucked tastes realized. This time around they could probably still be compared to earlier Gypsyhawk but the vibe is far more of a desert-bound chill via the sleepier ‘Volume Dealer’ side of Corrosion of Conformity or something closer in kin to the catchier edge of recent The Sword releases. That’ll be a stretch of imagination to some but, all it means is you’re getting classic song structures, a down-trodden mood and some very catchy nods to the heaviest of late 60’s/early 70’s hard rock.

Feedback and a gently percussive bassline kick the album off with the instantaneous mood of “Feeling So Low”, they’re just -in it- right in the pocket where Valkyrie thrive at pulling off rolling hooks and intimately confessional headspace. It isn’t a big chunking wallop, though, not in the visceral puritanical heavy metal sense and this greater sense of fluidity, subtly pressing rhythms leans on emotional weight, personal resonance for heaviness. This’ll make greater sense on for-sure single “Afraid to Live” where the key line “Afraid to live, Scared to die” lands so heavily upon the brow of at least a few generations of folks on some level. This is also the point where it becomes clear bassist Alan Fary (Earthling) is an incredible source of guidance and emphasis for this record with varietal tones, some clangorous and astoundingly heavy and others bearing some considerable nostalgic force, such as the Master of Reality-esque whirls of “Loveblind”. That third track is an adventure in and of itself, showcasing how willing Valkyrie are to step outside of their old station and lean heavily into their own brand of classics-minded, bluesy heavy rock. As much as I try to avoid track-by-track approaches Side A is so fully loaded with hooks there just isn’t a second of it that isn’t notable, the peak of this heavily felt start comes with “The Choice”, landing the core of the album in a space between auld n’ glittery prog-tinged classic rock and pulsing sludge rock today. Sure, at this point it is clear that ‘Fear’ isn’t a pure dose of heavy/doom metal excess (or style) at but neither was ‘Shadows’ and this album’s focus on memorable pieces is a success that continues over on Side B.

Once again recorded at Earth Analog Studios with Sanford Parker ‘Fear’ has that stoney Orange-aided warmth and ringing fuzziness you’d want from a doom-rock record but it differs quite a bit from the buzzing, noisome chunking of ‘Shadows’ which’d been a louder, ruckus prone recording. ‘Fear’ feels crystalline and isolated by comparison, not compressed but present in a more contained barroom-sized atmosphere. “Brings You Down” fills that space well enough, whereas the vocals could’ve echoed into infinity they reach just a few meters into the mouth of a cave, the lyrics are better enjoyed for the sake of this presence and clarity. Though the mood is morose rather than confrontational, the overall experience finds wisdom in seeking out catharsis by way of reflection and self-pouring out confessionals I’d suggested earlier. ‘Fear’ is warm, intimate, swinging low, blues-affected, rumbling, and I just cannot emphasize the power that gorgeous bass guitar tone brings to the album when it is set on repeat and allowed to fill a half-day with its ruminations. I might’ve flipped a few tracks around on Side B‘s running order around, and didn’t find “Exasperator” added much once I’d been elbow deep in each piece after a few weeks, but there isn’t much I’m left with to gripe about having breathed ‘Fear’ in so deeply in the process. Because it’d bit me hard enough, and still has me coming back for every bit of Side A, I feel confident in giving ‘Fear’ a very high recommendation that is particularly aimed toward doom-rockers, sullen stoney types, and anyone with equal parts ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Sabotage’ dominating their mind-palace.

Very high recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Relapse Records
RELEASE DATE:July 24th, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [Digital]
GENRES:Heavy Metal/Doom Rock,
Heavy Rock

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