There’s a new genre out there. Well, it is not new, at all. But it continues to gain momentum, importance, and – more importantly – general acceptance. One that is fun to listen to in a live environment. Famous for festivals and live venues in general. And it also gets you enough oomph to please in an earphone.
We’re talking about Heavy Rock and its many nuances out there. A style pretty much defined by its lava-like hotness and rough-hewn structure. Belted lyrics, boundless energy galore, and scratchy, loudly downturned guitars. Plus a frugal instrumental coverage of almost punk-ish proportions. That defines pretty much the allure that style brings to the stage.
The RMR blog already covered a score of them bands from pretty much all over the world. Outfits like Bear Bone Company, Last Bullet, Vinyl Hero, Silver Dust or Hey Satan come to mind right off the bat.
Methinks however that most of that goodness spills over from North America these days. This is a good thing, as the epicenter for many genres in rock and metal kind of moved away from the heartland. And now roam free all over Europe and – in part – in South America. And those have been at it for a while.
This is where Ohio-based Valley of the Sun comes in with their newest album Old Gods. Theirs is a curious mix of good ‘ol, fuzzy Stoner Rock and a pretty groovy dose of Heavy Rock to mess things up.
The record follows a storyline, roughly defined by the title itself. I found it kind of funky to get rock’n’roll, and then have them jam about stuff like Gaia or Shiva, the destroyer. Usually, when bands sing about the old gods of the East and other earthly concepts, you all of a sudden find the persistent whining of the weird sitar all over the place. And for sure in places, where it should never appear. Luckily, Valley of the Sun kept the weed in check and did not go that route. Yet here, the band lustily hit the fuzz button instead.
Old Gods leads off with some credible oomph at first on their title track. Yet straight after that one, you get this bizarre and utterly monotonous slowdown. A blurry sort of identity crisis that I don’t know where it escaped from.
The record jacks it up some later, but only by Dim Vision, about at mid-point. This was the moment when I was about to give up on the record and move elsewhere. But hey, finally they serve me with a reasonably hot dish of steamy rock that does sound … right down mainstream road. If there is something like that in Stoner and Heavy Rock.
You see, Valley of the Sun got ideas galore to inject some variation. But then, I am missing the blazingly hot power, this steam-machine that should be heading towards my boombox. There’s none of that exuberance, this wild, razor-sharp rush towards down’n’dirty rock. Old Gods progresses on an even keel, no real high volumes to speak off. Nothing to beat me in the dust with a brand of rock that lives in the basement and fucking rocks on stage.
It is as if this whole album was shot with a tranquilizer gun. And I don’t think the fault really lies with Ryan Ferrier and his vocals either. It is more this overly compressed soup of equalized sound bytes that pretty much sucks the fun out the record. To the point that I put my beer back into the fridge, to cool some more until the music was right again.
Yet, Old Gods kind of waddles on, with the band noodling about them godly entities from the East. The energy levels continue to wobble up and down, always at the decibel speed limit that the mighty master declared. No scratch, no itch that bothers you, and no f-words because the sound just overwhelmed my ears.
Until we hit Dreams of Sands. And yes – I know – it is kind of a mid-tempo ballad-style track and not really at the real rocky speed you would expect this to be in. Nor does it need to be.
Yet, this track sports this distinguished, yet simple groove, this oomph and grouchily aggressive pull that I was looking for throughout this record. The one that finally let me enjoy that beer out on the porch. But for that, I had to wait for that very last song on their tracklist.
In the end, Old Gods is not a bad album, far from it. But for some reason, the scorched-rock policy did not quite happen. The alternate styles of Heavy and Stoner Rock never quite mix and both quite seriously lack this liveliness that lets other providers in this genre come alive and shine so well.
Yet, moving down the tracklist, you’ll find a goodly slice of pretty catchy songs that seriously met our good side. And that is what saves the cake and keeps this album still enjoyable in and by itself.