There is back story to the career of North Carolina Metalcore quintet VALLEYS that is tale of tragedy and the strength to overcome. For those not familiar with the story, a week before the band released their debut “Experiment One: Asylum” in 2016, their vocalist Mikey Clement suddenly passed away in a horrific car crash. So with the enormous support of friends, family and fans, the band continued to put out the record and do justice for the fallen frontman’s songs. VALLEYS regrouped with Jayson Mitchell stepping up as lead vocalist and solidified their current line-up with guitarist duo Rj Riggle and Will Shoe joined by bassist Nick Raimondi and drummer Robert Meikle and played shows, taking time to rebuild themselves and prepare for their future in a way which Clement would have been proud of. In August 2019 Tragic Hero Records, the label that launched the careers of Alesana, A Skylit Drive and ERRA to name but a few, announced they had signed the band and set October as the release date for their sophomore album “Feareless”.
If for some reason you’re were expecting some melancholy and the infinite sadness tribute to Mikey Clement, guess again. “Tower of Babel” kicks things off with some of Tech-Metal infused Metalcore riffs in odd time signature patterns with stuccato breaks while having Jayson Mitchell deliver a seriously heavy growl. There are some clean vocals, which you might expect with any band tagged into the Metalcore genre but while they are a little on the high pitched side on the opening track, that is in part due to the headlong rush of Veil of Maya meets The Dillinger Escape Plan down a dark alley nature of the ferocious energy and high pacing of it. Similarly fast out of the gate is “Force Fed” smashes any illusions that the opening track was a one off and instead judders riffs with an almost DJent playing style in Metalcore guitar tones. Incredibly headbangable, it sits pride of place on the album and is a tune that Wage War should take note off, it’s the sort of thing we’d have hoped for from them on their latest release. The hard hitting lyrics of “Opiate” are deep and meaningful, telling the tragic tale of an opiate addicted user and their Mental state. Drawing attention to the crisis that is the sheer volume of people dying from opiate addiction on a global scale with a track is a fine way to do it and the socially aware nature of it is something to be applauded. The band inject melody, pare back the uncleans and essentially create a song with a pop-punk heart and a melodic Metalcore feel in slick and stylish fashion. Bringing back the heavy with some DJentisms in the rhythmic guitar work, “Bunkastu” takes things back to the direction of the earlier tracks. The melodic lead work that overlays it is a fine technical demonstration and could see the band move in more of a Progressive direction in the future. Comparisons to “The Mortal Coil” by Polaris aren’t too far adrift at this point, such is the quality of the material on show.
Keeping up the relentlessly high energy that VALLEYS have poured into the album, it’s title track “Fearless” takes things up a notch with a some raw and unadulterated emotion in the lyrics that empathize with struggle and lift up injecting the positive and saying that you can live fearlessly. As perhaps they should, all the elements that make up the album as a whole come together on its title track to create a melting pot of poly-rhythmic kit work, guitar work that shines with not only headbangable riffs but also ones which demonstrate impressive dexterity and sublime technical skill. The blend of vocal balance is also something to be commended as for a number of bands recent output one or the other dominates with the one that is left appearing an afterthought. The lyrics for each vocalists part have clearly been chosen to suit the style of the delivery with thought to how they’re going to come across. Breaking up the relentlessness with a melodic track in “Reflections” is a fine way to offer a point of difference and showcase some different musicianship and writing skills. The talk of the pain witnessed and the sense of injustice as people seemingly turn a blind eye is one we can all learn something from. Using the uncleans as a backing vocal to add a weight of gravity to the cleans while toning down some of the rhythm guitar work in favor of some Tech-Metal leads becoming the rhythms is a master stroke in writing a melodic track that maintains the flow and sense of energy within the album structure. Following it up with the 43 second interlude of “Break”, an ambient sounding track with storm sounds that allows for an impressive drum solo of sorts from Robert Meikle is an introduction piece that has been cut from the start of the following track to wonderful effect. “Fragile Minds” features a guest vocal appearance from Garrett Russell of Silent Planet and could happily see the two bands share stages in the tour cycle for “Fearless”. Asking the question of how we can break the cycles we see and stand up for those who can’t be heard, the intertwined vocals are well done, fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and when it comes of the “Bleigh!” its spot on. Riffs a plenty and jackhammer kit work, it’s a one of the finer cuts of an album of fine cuts. Are we slaves to the wage? The off spoken word almost rap is an interesting addition and suits the melodic guitar section before being strangled out by the uncleans.
The clean vocal first verse of “Revive” makes way for some schizophrenic guitar work from Rj Riggle and Will Shoe that has enough control in it to avoid chaos. A well done mixing job means that the impressive kit work is given the chance to shine while not drowning anything out. Nothing short of blistering in its approach it follows up single “Fragile Minds” in the best way possible and skillfully avoids any trappings or overshadowing that can occur when a big name guest appears on a fine track preceding it. Slowing things for the instrumental melody of “Closure” that brings peace to a chaotic mind with some interesting almost Jazz tones, it could have been lost as a final track on the album. It is in fact the calm before the storm as the battering ram blunt force trauma of “Rainmaker” comes to life. There are a few riffs that may have been from influences on the band which appear and but are quickly lost in the Deathcore roars of the track title as the band blind it up and offer something that is reminiscent of the work of Phinehas on their “Dark Flag” album. Given that both bands share the same morality, sense of injustice in the World and desire to do more to help, it wouldn’t surprise if they had some subliminal hand in the offering. They’d make great touring partners. No introduction with “Moon Child”, it gets to the first verse within seconds accompanied by some of the heaviest poly-rhythmic guitar work on the album as a whole that backs off to technical lead flourishes. Closing on such a heavy note musically is refreshing on a full length album of this nature and the quality of it is testament to a band that have poured their collective hearts, minds and souls into it. If there is one album that you listen to on release day Friday 11th October, this should be the one, it’s nothing sort of blindingly brilliant and features everything you could ask for in a modern Metal album and more. Technical, thought provoking and headbangable with great flow, drive and commitment, it’s socially and politically aware and grows with each listen to give you something new of relentlessly high quality [8.5/10]
Tower of Babel
Fragile Minds (Ft. Garrett Russell of Silent Planet)
“Fearless” by VALLEYS is out on 11th October via Tragic Hero Records and is available for pre-order here