Monday, January 20, 2014

Valtari - Hunter's Pride (2014)

Remember when music was a perfectly cyclical, and bands released albums on a schedule, of sorts? You could count on a new disc every two years, with touring in between. But when the inspiration goes, so does the schedule. Maybe it'll be three years in between albums, maybe even four. Soon, you don't have a whole lot of firm dates to looking forward to. Luckily, the new wave of modern metal has your back, and Marty Warren, the lone set of hands behind Valtari, is right on time. Almost two years to the day after the release of his debut album, "Fragments Of A Nightmare," Warren slips us a gentle reminder that inspirations are many, and their results are even greater. His new album is ten tracks, clocking in at a robust 42 minutes, which may seem short by some of today's standards. But this is an album that can change the game entirely. The tracks are shorter, the riffs more insistent, the drums more dynamic, and the vocals more grating on the inner ear. This album, "Hunter's Pride," is everything you could have hoped for, two years after you thought you had gotten everything you wanted.

Like a bullet from a gun, there is no subtlety in how the release happens, a veritable explosion of sound and technical detail. What is immediately apparent on "Bitterness" is the sheer depth of sound Warren has crafted here, leaving you standing up to your neck in layers. The blasting gallop of drums forms the base, the foundation for what grows upward. He achieves just the right tone on the kick, a resounding thump that remains as rocksteady as it would need to be. But the star, at least in this instance, is the guitar work. It might not seem fair to classify his style as acrobatic, but when the shoe fits, you have to put it on and enjoy it. The riffs and fast and furious, but not out of control, or even raw. His rhythm and lead work on "Undefeatable" serves as a fitting microcosm of the album, rolling side by side every step of the way. The addition of a winding piano sequence only furthers that unity. While there is a common thread that runs through the entire length of the album, there is also a great deal of versatility built in. If straightforward melodic death is your genre of choice, "Can You Hear Me" has everything you could be looking forward. It's a full speed ahead crusher, complete with a vocal performance that bleeds maturity. Warren has harnessed every bit of his energy, leaving no doubt that he has arrived.

Having now realized his full potential, tracks like "Shatter The Myth" must seem all too easy. It's here that he creates the best contrast of sounds, laying out a great melodic opening, only to give way to an unrelenting stomp of distortion and gritty screams. An outro packed to the brim with endless double kicks and huge riffs is the end of the track, but only the beginning of the assault. It is a challenge, from our perspective, to make it through the duration of "In Slides" without the guitar lead taking over your mind. Once again, the layering of guitars is key, but executed with flawless precision. Tracks like this one find that fabled place between melody and brutality, leaning on both but favoring neither. The vocal lines, to this point, have shown a tremendous amount of growth, and this is no different. When you reach the halfway mark of the album, you may stop ever so briefly and ponder the title "With A Child's Smile;" rest assured, the album has derailed in favor of a Sesame Street learning exhibition, or a beautifully strummed acoustic lullaby. No, Warren continues to push the limits of modern engineering and music construction, testing the very strength of his mix with a flood of massive riffs and a drum kit that simply cannot be contained. That, more than anything else, becomes the theme of Warren's instrumental work; he bends the parameters until you would expect them to break, as on "Enshrined In Ice," only to hold strong in the face of a weighty set of tightly packed layers.

AS  you land face first in the final trio of songs, led by "Tyrant," you can only marvel at how high the energy level has remained throughout the album, not falling victim to the peaks a valleys an album of this style and magnitude would often stumble on. Part of this is due to track lengths, with this each one standing tall around the four minute mark, give or take. It allows for exposition without being extraneous, and tidal shifts without the need for twists. As Warren screams through the chorus here, he shows no sign of slowing. It's the balance, though, that shines brightest, hammering home the entire notion of what melodic death metal really means; a foundation of heaviness, scattered with clean melodic elements. "The Gift" isn't organized chaos, like we have noted about other modern artists, but clean lines, smooth architecture, and just enough light to allow for additional growth. It's intensely catchy, as the rest of the album has been, without a trace of effort to be accessible; Warren just makes music that is easy to listen to. The title track, however, is the victory song on a victory album. Every riff is more technically sound than even those before it, and each and every scream cascades through your speakers with maximum efficiency. There is an intelligence factor, too, with the smallest touches of piano doing so much to further the melodic aspect.

Let's be honest with ourselves; there are bands that get better over time, bands that get worse, and bands that reach their peak and never move from it again. After his first album came through our office, we weren't sure where Marty Warren would fall in that hierarchy. We were fairly certain that his talents and drive would ensure he wouldn't regress on the next album. But we also weren't positive that he could continue to improve after such an impressive performance. Yet, somehow, "Hunter's Pride" not only shows a massive amount of growth and foresight, but an undeniable dedication to his craft. This isn't melodic death, by the book and one dimensional; no, that would be too easy and lack the rewards. This is something else entirely, something that that is hard to put a label on, and even harder to say it confidently. Through the course of ten tracks, of optimal length, perfect timing, and delicate balance, Warren carves out a new niche for himself that isn't the most easily replicated. In fact, I would think he has put himself in a class all his own. He has reached a peak, and the only way to go his up.


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