What do you get when you throw Mastodon and Neurosis into a blender? If you answered 'Scott Kelly's over-stroked ego,' then, yes, you're technically correct. But if you're not being a smart-ass, you would have a band with a sound akin to that of Brooklyn-based post-/doom metal band, A Storm of Light.
Their debut album, And We Wept the Black Ocean Within (someone should really talk to them about the benefits of concise album titles), was stylistically similar to Oceanic-era Isis, yet somehow turned up a few more notches. It showcased an unprecedented level of bleak, full vastness of sound that I find is still incomparable today. With their subsequent releases, however, A Storm of Light have turned down their true ambient, post-metal tendencies in favour of experimentation with more straightforward genres. While Valley of Death is certainly more compact in that sense than their earlier releases, it still maintains that sense of aural overbearing from their earlier albums. It feels like being audibly steamrolled, and I mean that to have the most positive connotation possible. They take what would normally be boring, cookie-cutter heavy metal pieces and give them such an enormous density that it's hard not to be moved by them.
The drumming on this album is absolutely impeccable. Most of the pieces feature drum work that changes stylistically on a dime. One moment, drummer Billy Graves will be churning out metal denser than the largest wad of osmium, and the next he'll be pounding enough toms to produce a tribal drum round for two hundred men (I'm looking at you, "Death's Head"). While he's not doing anything too complex technically, what he does do fits the presence of the album perfectly. I mean, there's nothing performed on this album that a burgeoning drummer couldn't imitate with only a small amount of experience. What makes the drumming so good is that Graves brings such an unmistakably heavy quality to the music that is extremely difficult to capture, bringing the entire album to another level. Okay, fine, maybe forcing triplets into simple meters gets annoying after a while, but if that's the extent of my annoyance, I'll deal with it.
Josh Graham's vocals leave a little bit to be desired, but they aren't that terrible. He's tried to bring back clean vocals into his music in order to diversify the musical territory he can cover, a move I completely respect. However, he just isn't as cut out for the job as much as his growling, so there has been a noticeable decline in the quality of his vocals since Black Ocean Within. While he does have his moments of clarity (the vocal performance in "Destroyer" is actually very inspired and a highlight of the album), most of the time the vocals fall into the merely-average range. You can literally hear the strain in his voice on pieces like "Wretched Valley" or "Silver."
What really carries this album are his guitars. Every song is either packed to capacity with crashing guitar lines or is about to be. Actually, the short bits where the lighter guitar lines come in ("Collapse," "Destroyer") are rather enjoyable for the contrast they provide. They still sound unnaturally full, but they're not as sonically overpowering. And the man can solo extremely well, too. The solo in "Missing" is awesome (in the classical sense, I mean); even the generic rising guitar line at the end of the song feels more powerful than it has any right to. "Black Wolves" features a brief solo that seems to avoid tonality at all costs, and yet the result is so effective it's hard to argue against it. "Silver" features some incredibly simple motifs for its solos, and yet it's incredibly effective nonetheless. My only complaint is that they always seem all too brief.
It's not quite as great as their previous efforts, but I wouldn't count A Storm of Light completely out for the count just yet. I'd still highly recommend Valley of Death to fans of the post-metal aesthetic who want to hear something just a little different.
7.5 / 10
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