Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Album Review: Valis Ablaze - Render

I must be getting old. I remember back when prog metal referred to music that deviated from conventional structure. It was about playing long songs, taking the listener on some unexpected twists and turns. I also remember when the next variety came up, and prog metal became more about the technical proficiency of the players, where the length of the song didn't define prog as much as the difficulty of playing the songs did. Virtuoso players made prog, regardless of the structure they wrre playing in. I thought that was stretching things a bit, but whatever, it was fine.

Lately, though, prog has also been defined by the bands coming up in the rise of djent, where as long as the time signature isn't 4/4 (or doesn't sound like it even if it is), you qualify. There are scores of bands that chug simple riffs in slightly odd cadences for four minutes, and that somehow is now prog. I don't get how, but the sky looks awfully cloudy today. Maybe I should yell out the window....

That is the style of prog Valis Ablaze plays. If you enjoy counting beats and doing math, they are the kind of band you'll love. Their guitar style is one that doesn't feature big riffs, the kind you could sing along to at a show like "Heaven & Hell" or even "Seven Nation Army". These are riffs where there is little internal melody, they are predominantly focused on the right hand pattern. For a guitar player, that can be fascinating stuff to dissect (if that's your wont), but it makes for a difficult listening experience. By doing so little, the appeal of the songs is shifted almost entirely to the vocals.

I'll say this; Phil Owen has a more appealing voice than many of the extremely ethereal singers djent bands employ. He's got a good tone, and diversity to play up the lighter and heavier sections of the songs. The problem is, as I complain about often with these kinds of bands, the hyper-focus on rhythm among the musicians carries over to the vocals, which don't have a lot of melody to them. They do when compared to the guitars, but it's the kind of melody where anything sung cleanly would sound as such among relentless chugging. Take the vocals out of these constructions, and nothing he is singing would make for a good song on a strummed acoustic guitar.

It feels weird saying this, since I'm still years away from being forty, but maybe it's a generational thing. I'm old enough to remember before the big shift in what constituted popular music, when instruments and melodies were dominant, and not rhythms and percussion. If I was younger, and only knew electronic pop and hip-hop as mainstream, this might be the kind of metal that would get me excited. But since I do remember the old days, and that's what I grew up with, this style is just bland to me. It isn't that there's no swagger or no aggression, it's that I walk away from these songs wondering what I'm supposed to remember.

How does one hum a 7/8 polyrhythm to oneself?

So I have to say the same thing about Valis Ablaze that I do about Periphery, Tesseract, and the rest of that ilk; they sound very good at what they do, I just don't know what the point of it is.

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