Monday, September 29, 2008

Oh Shenandoah

VALKYRIE – “Man Of Two Visions” CD ’08 (Noble Origin, US) – I was just having an email chat the other day with super cool guy Racer over at The Ripple Effect about the season of autumn, how refreshing it is to some of us. And, not to steal any of his thunder (as he has some very cool thoughts about it over on his site), but it got me to thinking about that: the coolness in the air, the different smells, the look of the trees, campfires, etc. It also got me thinking about the family weekends when I was younger, when we’d load up the car & drive down to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in October to see the changing of the leaves. It was such a great, pensive time and, no matter how rat-raced-out the city got me, it was a natural purging, a gift of oneness with nature that I’ve never felt anywhere else. So coincidental then (or was it?) that the very next day I received in the mail this 2nd full-length offering from Harrisonburg, VA’s VALKYRIE. Located in that very same Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg is the home to a band who has become one of my very favourites. On both their split effort with Vog (2004) and their self-titled full-lengther (2006), this 4-piece unit has taken the essence of bands like Maiden & Sabbath and infused it with something very special that is sometimes easier to feel than even describe. There is melody there, most notable in the dual harmony guitars of brothers Jake & Pete Adams, that draws to mind artistry from the early ‘70’s, especially the work of Andy Powell & Ted Turner in Wishbone Ash, obviously a big influence on their playing. But there’s something even deeper, a rustic sense of nature and the small-town rural world that imbues this music and it’s felt even more so on their 2nd album, “Man Of Two Visions.” From the very beginning, just looking at this disc gives me a warm, timeless feeling. Beyond the striking cover artwork, when I turn the record over, I see 7 songs. This used to be such a key for me in the old days. Seven songs on an LP in 1971 meant that these were not 2-3 minute pop ditties. This was a band who’s playing was relaxed & deliberate: i.e., there was gonna be some axe work going on here! There is! Interestingly enough, opener “Running Out” is the song that’s perhaps the least in line with the expected VALKYRIE style. It’s a fairly straight-ahead, fast-paced pummeler that serves a very distinct purpose, at least for this listener: Ok buddy, you’re life is on a merry-go-round, you’ve gotta go to Home Depot, Wal*Mart and then pick up the kids…but…you’re going to sit down, lay back and let this album wash over you! Don’t try to resist it! And, you couldn’t anyway because as that 5-minute bomber ends, “Dawntide’s Breeze” begins. This is a sublime 6 minutes. Classic VALKYRIE…opening with a very snaky, psychy riff, harmony leads abound, Jake & Pete’s insistent vocals regard your ears with passion and clarity and you’re swept away on a 37 minute journey that will be one of the best you’ll take this year. Next comes “Green Highlander” and this, my friends, this is one of the many reasons this album is so special. While the record’s shortest number (just under 3 minutes), it is a simply gorgeous instrumental. Had Tony Iommi recorded “Laguna Sunrise” high atop Hawksbill Mountain in the Shenandoah Range, this is how it may have sounded. A regal harmony intro announces “Apocalypse Unsealed” before it quickly shifts gears into a pillaging, galloping ride across a NWOBHM-ish terrain, Jake & Pete once again placing sign-posts along the trail with dual leads as sweet as homespun honey. And, before you think this is a 2-man show, lest I not forget to give credit where credit is due. Will Barry-Rec (bass) and Warren Hawkins (drums) form a rhythm section that is living and breathing, always grooving yet never afraid to embellish ever-so-slightly in ways that artists of the past, Butler & Ward, Turner & Upton would do so effortlessly. And it’s here I think of the past again. Those dusty record shops revealing their cardboard & vinyl jewels, gatefold gemstones called “Argus” & “Machine Head,” those mystical 7-songed hydras where the last 3 songs would be the best…could it continue? “False Dreams” is heralded by an intro so beautiful in melody that I’m nearly physically forced to hit the reverse button and listen again. Then, as the song-proper begins and Pete & Jake hit a certain vocal harmony in the chorus, I’m stricken with a single thought. These guys are members of the very elite. They are not reminiscent of, say, Wishbone Ash or Iron Maiden. They are on the same level because they are creating art at the same high watermark. This is the real deal. And, my hopes continue to rise and are then exceeded. “The Gorge” is an instrumental guitar piece and this time, clocking in at 5:00 minutes, it is a work so singular it could only fit this perfectly on a VALKYRIE album. Combining elements of bluegrass, country, jazz-like runs, this is such special stuff that it’s only natural successor could be what may be the band’s most complete song to date, the stunningly heavy title track. With this one, they have not only ended the record with their most crushing song sonically. They’ve also created a showcase in how something can be elevated well beyond it’s strictly metallic plunder with a sense of atmosphere that’s at once pastoral, perceptive and supremely confident…all while oozing emotion. If you think I’m busting a gut over this new disc by VALKYRIE, you’re right, I am and for very good reason. A precious few times, I’ve had the thought cross my mind to sit with a record, in the same place it was created and try to absorb so much of what the artist felt. I’ve imagined listening to Thin Lizzy’s “Vagabond’s Of The Western World” standing at Giant’s Causeway. I’ve pondered hearing Side Two of “Black Sabbath” as an iron forge banged in the background in Birmingham. And, now, I long to spend an autumn afternoon in a harvest field in the Shenandoah Valley, immersed in VALKYRIE’s “Man Of Two Visions”. 10.0
NOTE: Congratulations to Pete Adams, who has recently taken the vacant guitar position in BARONESS. Great band, longtime friends of Pete and what a cool opportunity. Most importantly, brother Jake Adams tells me that they still plan on keeping VALKYRIE going strong. Stay tuned for an interview with Jake on these very pages!

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