Friday, November 6, 2015

Album Review: Marius Danielsen's Legend of Valley Doom

Ten years spent toiling.  Ten years in the oven, basting, turning, cooking.  Ten years a labor of love and music.  That’s the background of Marius Danielsen’s “Legend of Valley Doom,” a metal opera project that goes way beyond such clichéd terms as ‘supergroup’ or ‘all-star lineup’ and transcends as a Who’s Who of the power metal universe.

Begun as an idea of Marius himself, “Legend of Valley Doom” sought to expand beyond the comparatively simple confines of modern power metal and create an all-encompassing, immersive metal experience, something that would ring through the ages and drip with the centuries-crafted artistic melodrama of opera.

Starting from a base camp of his own band Darkest Sins, Marius and his brother Peter started to climb the summit of this massive production by reaching out to friends and musicians willing to lend a hand.  It would take too much space here to list all the names, but just know that if there’s a band you can think of from the power metal sphere, there’s a more than fair chance that someone from that band is featured on this album in some capacity.  Like gathering heroes from the far corners of Europe and North America, musicians came from all walks to help make this record possible.

So what does ten years of preparation sound like?  Somewhere at the intersection of Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody and Turisas sits the general thrust of “Legend of Valley Doom.”  It has the clean power metal feel of the former while taking presentation cues from the latter.  Much like the Finnish would-be Varangians, “Legend of Valley Doom” specializes in rafter-raising singalong choruses, gleeful chunks that are easily imagined in mead halls or theaters with vaulted ceilings.  The addition of spoken narration by several characters helps add context and depth, making this more than just a concept album, but a true story-telling experience.

And it doesn’t take long to get there.  The album truly begins with “The Battle of Bargor Zun,” which sounds about as fantastical and imaginative as the title would suggest.  This is power metal fury as it always should be, bent around huge orchestration and musicians behind the curtain who are clearly enjoying their craft.  Vocalists are playing their parts, whether faithful prince or evil lord, battling each other with alternating verses and letting the music create foundation representing the tumult underneath.

The actual title track is a fourteen minute epic that sees the heroes in different phases, as the song expertly gallops from vocal opus to blistering guitar exhibition to pounding, horse-riding outro.  The album shines here not only in its presentation, but in having absolutely no pretense and simply being delightfully corny.  Make no mistake, that’s meant as a compliment.  Too many albums of this nature get drowned in the pomp and circumstance of fantasy subject matter, but “Legend of Valley Doom” supersedes that by simply giving in and going for full theatrics.  A chorus of warriors singing in tune about riding to their certain death and taking on the tenets of fate is naught but good drama, and
Marius and company leave that enjoyable facet unadorned with airs of arrogance.

The perhaps predictable weakness of “Legend of Valley Doom” lies in the very collection of musicians that make up its countenance.  By recruiting nearly exclusively from the power metal sphere, the album never creates something wholly new.  For all of its prowess and exhibition, the album never expands beyond the sphere of its creation, thus leading to a record that is beautifully produced but doesn’t make one forget about the rest of the genre.

The Dark Lord, by way of example, is portrayed well by Mark Boals, but he’s another in the line of power metal vocalists, and the Dark Lord is similarly backed by different but still clean power metal tones.  One can’t help but wonder – what would this project sound like if the Dark Lord were voiced by Peter Tagtgren or Dave Wyndorf?  How well could he stand out if Tom Morello or John Christ created an atmosphere for his arrival?  This is something Rush captured well for “2112,” where the protagonist and the Priests are given separate presentation.  Even in high end theatre, nobody really confuses Jean Valjean with Inspector Javert – they are accompanied and shown differently.   These are the nagging questions which haunt the corners of “Legend of Valley Doom.”

The record ends with the heroes suffering a climactic defeat, but their spokesman quickly swoops in and proclaims that not all is lost.  They still have the hope of joining forces with another distant kingdom to drive out the evil interlopers.  This is when the listener’s eye happens to catch that part of the record’s title is ‘Part 1,’ which means the sequel is coming!

“Legend of Valley Doom” may not be the most captivating album of the year, but it is quite well done and clearly a labor of intense love by the Danielsens.  At the very least, Listeners will want to hear to Part 2 to see how the epic unfolds and ultimately concludes.

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