Baroness – Purple

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It we have learned anything from the current events in the world right now, we know that life is precious. In our own little worlds we drone away at work, at our passions, and our daily escapes. It can all go away in an instant. We all feel the pain of loss, but we can all rise again. The pendulum can sway either way for us. And when we feel those little pins of excitement, ones that quicken our pulses, that make the hairs on the back of your next stiffen, even the ones that hurt your heart; we need to cling to them, fiercely as we can. Baroness is a great example of bleeding triumph from pain, and their new album Purple (Abraxan Hymns) is as much a testament to being alive as any piece of music I have heard in a long time.

Back in 2011, I hadn’t thought it was possible for the band to top the sprawling double album Yellow And Green (Relapse). It represented both sides of what the band could be: Sabbath-ian heaviness with a late-era Led Zeppelin variety. It felt huge and it didn’t change what they were or or how fans felt about them either. Then came the well documented bus accident that almost took their lives, and everything changed. And just like in other tragedies, we focus on the chaos of the moment, our emotions ebbing towards the familiar. Yes, the accident was horrible and the relief in the entire music community was thick enough to taste. However, equally arduous was the band finding their way back to mental and physical health, and at last the victory of touring again. I don’t know if any of this played into the craft that went into making Purple, but then how could it not? A life changing event surely can reshape your art, as it must have for John Baizley in particular. Even though Purple is a Baroness album to its very bones, if feels like a new sounding band at times. This is music born of suffering, but one conveying strength of will through tears.

From the first notes of ‘Morningstar’, you get a sense that this album is going to be different, and you would be right. Inspiring heavy rock with giant sweeping choruses have been common for this band, but now they are doing it on a much grander scope. Part of it must be the comfort level Baizley has with guitarist Pete Adams; the musical ninja assassin to John’s zen master. They play off each other perfectly vocally and guitar-wise. ‘Shock Me’ starts with pastoral keys from bassist Nick Jost, but gives way to bombastic jamminess. Just a tremendous cut in scope and energy. Sebastian Thomson’s perfect drumming propels the track. Baizley finally has the players to match him and to help him realize his great vision.

Baroness, photo credit Jimmy Hubbard

Baroness, photo credit Jimmy Hubbard

‘Try To Disappear’ and ‘Kerosene’ are both straight out amazing, each could vie for the best song here. Heavy without trying to be super heavy, ‘Kerosene’ features Robert Fripp influenced guitar work and glorious twin-harmony lead vocals throughout. Jost’s bass playing is melodious and tight here and all over the album. The last minute or so of the song is transcendent.

‘Fugue’ is a transition piece, one that is a ties back to early albums like First, Second or Red. ‘Chlorine & Wine’ follows and was the first single, and it has a bit of a space rock thing going on. That intro alone will make you well up with tears that reminded me of Pelican or Rosetta’s best moments, although I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. If you obsess over great guitar work like I do, this track has the kitchen sink of effects on it. They are all done in a tasteful way, not at all schlocky.

I am not sure any band can blend the musicianship of Pink Floyd with the soul inferno of Thin Lizzy the way ‘The Iron Bell’ came out, but damn it if they didn’t achieve just that. ‘Desperation Burns’ is the heaviest track on the album, coming on with a chopping riff and great lyrical depth. If you were a fan from the very beginning of this band, this song will give you all the feels. This is also one of the many songs where the new rhythm section of Jost and Thomson just crushes it. Right out of the Blue playbook, it’s great to see artists pulling back to what made them great, but then demonstrating growth.

‘If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain)’ reminds me a bit of the chill moments from Yellow. The interplay of keys, bass and guitars over a shuffle beat from Thomson with mostly a solo vocal from Baizley will get you where you live. The chiming notes in the chorus will send you over the moon. The final track is a little transmission of sorts, that sounds like what I hope to hear before the aliens attack and vaporize the Earth once and for all. Ok, that one is just for me, make of that what you will. Producer Dave Fridmann’s masterful work is all over Purple and should not be understated in its importance.

Like most albums in their career, there is no filler on this album. More so, there are no flaws either. Every part written for a purpose, every strum and riff, every beat, every plucked bass string right in its perfect place, all meant to give birth to a masterpiece. Prog without being classically progressive, old-school in spirit, but with a modern touch: the heart of Baroness lives in a dichotomy of what makes them great and they redefine their genre with each new album.

10.0/10

KEITH CHACHKES

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Valkyrie – Shadows

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Although they’ve not released a record for seven years, Harrisonburg, Virginia’s Valkyrie haven’t been idle. Guitarist Pete Adams joined Baroness, while fellow Adams brother Jake began a career in teaching. And despite promises to the contrary when Ghost Cult talked to them a couple of years ago, the band have signed to Relapse Records to release their third album, Shadows.

With Sanford Parker (Pelican, Leviathan, YOB) on production duties and backed up by Alan Fary on Bass and Warren Hawkins on drums [the Adams share vocal duties], Shadows is a musical step up. With the exception of rollicking opener ‘Mountain Stomp’ the band have matured their sound and mostly ditched their simple but satisfying approach to song writing. Gone are the Iron Maiden-esque gallops, and in in their place is a complex melody of 80s doom [think St. Vitus/Trouble], classic NWOBHM sensibilities and progressive structures.

There’s still plenty of Thin Lizzy-styled twin leads – fans of Baroness will be find plenty of familiar fret wizardry to enjoy – and plenty of thunderous riffs filling every moment, but the songs are more complex and ambitious. The likes of ‘Temple’ and ‘Wintery Plains’ combine the slow and controlled build up with some stellar intricate musicianship and plenty of melody, and not the kinds of songs you could imagine the band being capable of on their self-titled debut (Twin Earth Records) or the excellent Man of Two Visions (Noble Origin).

It’s the musical muscle that makes Shadows so enjoyable, and the Adams’ guitar work takes centre stage throughout of the entire record. Only one track is less than six minutes long, but they all they devote more time to the altar of the solo than anything else. ‘Shadow of Reality’, ‘Golden Age’ and ‘Echoes (Of The Ways We Lived)’ all combine the meatiness of The Sword circa Age of Winters (Kemado/Toy’s Factory) with the 70s fuzz of classic Witchcraft or Graveyard.

Shadows is seven tracks of guitar acrobatics with real depth. Long-time fans might take a few listens to really acclimatise as the songs aren’t quite as instantaneous as previous albums. But they’ve pushed themselves and created something that is undoubtedly influenced by classic metal but not afraid to show off quite how good they are at that guitar thing. All killer, no filler.

 

9.0/10

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DAN SWINHOE

Valkyrie Signs With Relapse Records, New Album Due Out In 2015

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Virginia riff rockers Valkyrie has signed with Relapse Records and worked on their first full-length release in seven years at Earth Analog Studios in Champaign, IL with producer Sanford Parker (Corrections House, Nachtmystium, Pelican, Twilight) earlier in the month. It is due out in early 2015.

 

Formed in 2002, the band features brothers Jake and Pete Adams (Baroness, Samhain) on guitar and vocals, Alan Fary (Earthling) on bass and Warren Hawkins on drums. Drawing comparisons to Thin Lizzy, Scorpions, Black Sabbath, early Iron Maiden and Deep Purple, Valkyrie play guitar driven rock n roll replete with infectious solos and catchy, powerful vocals.

 

Guitarist / vocalist Jake Adams commented on the signing and new material:

 

We are really excited about this new record. Some of these songs we have been working on for many years and we are glad to see them have a proper release on an excellent label. This new record will be a step up in terms of song dynamics and musicianship from the previous albums. We think our fans will dig the fresh approach to the classic Valkyrie sound.”

 

For a more in-depth look into the band, check out this profile we did on them a few months ago, written by Ghost Cult scribe Dan Swinhoe:

 

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Brothers In Arms – Jake Adams of Valkyrie

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Being in a band can be a tough gig. Especially so when one of the members is in a very popular band. Known better as the original band project of Pete Adams of Baroness, since 2002 Valkyrie has put out two solid releases along with some over the years and the occasional regional tour, or festival in their home state of Virginia. Still, this quality outfit should be bigger by now, and is a must listen for fans of Red Fang and High On Fire, proto-metal, doom, and throwback heavy metal lovers. Ghost Cult scribe Dan Swinhoe caught up with guitarist/vocalist Jake Adams, Pete’s brother, to give us an update about the progress of this group, the status of their next album, and the current state of the band.

 

How do the dynamics of the band work? Is it your band and your rules, or more of a democracy?

It’s definitely democratic. The reason we are playing with these guys is because we know they have a lot to offer as far as ideas and sheer talent to each song that we write. That being said, usually me or my brother (Pete) come up with the bulk of the riffs and song ideas and Alan (Fary, bass) and Warren (Hawkins, drums) will definitely bring a lot to add to that. Most of the basic riffs I write, and Pete often adds harmonies and brings in ideas to get me “out of the box.” The dynamics of song writing work well, as long as Pete and I know what we are doing on guitars – so we spend a lot of time outside of whole-band practices getting our leads and harmonies together.

 

What’s it like being in a band with family? Easier or harder to work with?

It is definitely easier because we don’t have to think so hard about everything, things just flow naturally because we have such a history playing and being together. There are times where we tend to push each others’ buttons and it makes for some awkward van rides because Warren and Alan don’t want to pick sides. But Pete and I are quick to work through things usually.

 

When people siblings in the same band, there’s often talk of some sort of psychic chemistry that makes them a better unit- what’s your take on this?

I would definitely agree – often we hear something at the same time and both start taking the song in a certain direction.. it definitely makes things a lot smoother.

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How do you and your brother’s playing/songwriting styles differ?

Well, what I tend to play as far as solos tends to be more thought out, but less spontaneous. Pete’s soloing is like capturing lightning in a bottle – he never plays the same solo twice, he tends to “feel” things out more than myself.

 

Do you feel you fit into any sort of scene at all? There’s been a bit of a resurgence of classic-style rock in the last few years- Witchcraft, The Sword, Graveyard etc- do you think people are looking back to the early days of rock/metal more?

Oh yeah, definitely – there is definitely a resurgence in heavy metal and older rock for sure. We are definitely part of that, but I can’t think of too many bands doing what we are doing. First off, we don’t employ any occult themes or satanic shtick, which tends to define a lot of bands in the hard rock scene, also we lean more to late seventies hard rock than the earlier blues based stuff. Also the vibe of our music tends to be more positive than a lot of bands in the doom scene – throw in clean vocals, harmonized leads, and you start to narrow down the list of bands doing what we are doing. I wouldn’t say we don’t fit it, but our sound tends to stand apart from most of the bands we play with.

 

Which bands are you a fan of nowadays? 

I wish I could say I was a fan of more new bands, not much is really doing it for me these days. There are some friends’ bands worth mentioning : Inter Arma, Earthling, who are doing great things. I stick to the classics like Priest, Sabbath, Maiden, Wishbone Ash, Camel, Skynyrd, old Scorpions, old Whitesnake, Rainbow, stuff like that. We all listen to different stuff, for instance Alan listens to a lot more death metal and thrashy stuff than I do regularly.

 

What’s happened to the band since the release of Man With Two Visions?

Well, a lot. My wife and I have had two kids, we have a new bass player ( Alan). Pete joined Baroness and has been touring a ton, and I have started a career in teaching. We have been slowly but surely working on the third record, which is finally getting close to finished.

 

You’re a teacher now, do the students know about Valkyrie? Do they like it? 

Yeah, I usually tell them about it- you always get a select few that actually go check it out online and a always have a few that are pretty into it. But as you can imagine, not too many 13 year-olds are going to gravitate to traditional doomy hard rock .

 

How did Pete joining Baroness affect the band?

Well, Pete’s schedule tends to be very busy with Baroness so often times it gets hard to plan for gigs. But Pete’s skills have improved a lot since he plays so often with Baroness and he has brought a new perspective to Valkyrie as far as songwriting is concerned, some new ideas that playing with Baroness has given him.

 

The first time I heard about the band was the Man of Two Visions re-release on Meteor City, and aside from the quality music the Baroness connection was one of the things that piqued my interest- Do you think the association has been good for the band?

I think so, wherever Baroness goes, Pete can continue to be an ambassador for Valkyrie – and some people have definitely found out about Valkyrie from Baroness.

 

Likewise- is it tiring at all having that association?

Not really, real fans and genuine music critics “get it,” and can see the relationship between the bands. I have no problem being associated with them, their approach is totally unique, they are one of the most entertaining and talented live acts around. I’m proud of what they have done, because we grew up playing music together, so their success makes me happy. No worries.

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Baroness & Valkyrie are very different bands, but do you ever hear anything in Pete’s playing on the Blue record or Yellow/Green that reminds you of Valkyrie? Have you actually heard the record?

Oh yeah, I am quite familiar with all their stuff. Yes, definitely, you can hear Pete’s playing on the records he was a part of. He has a distinct tone he achieves with the fretting hand that stands out from time to time. Listen to the solo on ‘Horse Called Golgotha’ and you will see what I mean.

 

Can you talk me through your experience of the crash Pete had while on tour with Baroness?

I was in Honduras, I think it was the day before school was set to start at the private school where I was teaching. I stopped by my apartment for lunch and I happened to look on Facebook, where I saw something about a bus crash. My heart sank and quickly called home for more info. Luckily by that point my brother had called my dad and let him know that he was ok. I was still really concerned for everyone else of course – it is miracle that they came out as well as they did considering the scope of the crash.

 

How the split with Earthling come about?

Earthling is from the same place ( Harrisonburg, Va) that Valkyrie has considered its “hometown” for a while. They are good friends of ours; a while back the main songwriter/vocalist for Earthling, Alan, joined us on bass. So we are closely connected. It was a logical thing to do, since they were our “brothers in metal” in Harrisonburg – plus they are amazing! We are pleased with the results, it sounds great, and the original 1000 that were pressed are pretty much gone and Tension Head is toying with the idea of a reissue.

What stage are you at with the new album? Can you provide any details? [Album title/track names/release date/anything?]

We know what tracks will be on the album, we are just demo-ing the material right now and tweaking it all out, refining it. Probably 8 tracks. No other info yet.

 

How are you going to release the new album? Self-release/ via a label | online/vinyl etc…

We haven’t decided yet, but we will probably keep it low-key as far as labels- we aren’t going to be touring constantly anytime soon so we don’t really need a big label to support us right now. Something smaller, where we can maintain a larger share of the proceeds would suit us better. Meteorcity Records still has our cds and records for sale; Tension Head Records has the recent Mountain Stomp 7”.

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Dan Swinhoe