Yes, it’s absurd to break down the qualifier for the ‘stoner’ tag into whether or not someone owns a long piece of furniture with stupidly tempting cushions, but all is fair in a war where so many lump OM, Electric Wizard and High On Fire under the same roof. The fact of the matter is, ‘stoner’ is the laziest tag in our genre, yet it still manages to at least make some sort of sense once that warm, fuzzy feeling works its way through your ears and into the veins. Maybe an easier way to break it down is this: Does the following sticker belong on the album cover?
In the case of Virginia’s velvet gallopers Valkyrie, I would have to say yes.
It’s been seven years since the band’s last release, Man of Two Visions, and that long stretch has seen the fuzzier end of the doom spectrum become oversaturated to the point where many roll their eyes and simply sidestep most anything that gets stamped with a sweetleaf. And I get it – folks have things to do, people to see, acreage to hoe and wells to dig, and in too many cases, these tunes ain’t getting any shorter.
But even if it’s become somewhat unstylish to tag something stoner, there’s still plenty of good to be found, and this particular branch of metal will never need the mainstream as long as we have bearded wizards floating on pillowy cushions and ripping through Kirby’s Epic Yarn while Sleep’s Holy Mountain drifts in the foreground. In the interest of saving people time sifting through a stack of half-baked contenders, however, there are two records from 2015 that stand pretty tall as top-shelf picks for the interested ear: Elder’s fantastic Lore, and this little record right’chere.
What’s particularly satisfying about Shadows and Valkyrie in general is the fact that the band manages all the coolness, the comfort and the “jaminess” so often associated with this style in a way that’s raw & free, yet refreshingly succinct. That easy, organic touch has a lot to do with the fact that the record sounds as if Sanford Parker had the guys roll into the studio and knock through these seven tunes just as though they’d stepped onto a stage to play in front of a comfortable gathering at a local club. And it may seem strange to praise an album for keeping things under 45-minutes, but by God, it’s very much appreciated during an age when nearly every form of entertainment continues to test fans’ endurance. These tunes are just long enough to get lost in, but not so stretched that you need to take a whiz break halfway through the record.
As for the music itself, things are still cut from a similar cloth as the band’s two previous works, but Shadows touches the corners with a stronger level of, for lack of a better term, seriousness. Outside of the bright, light-hearted manner in which “Mountain Stop” opens the show (the tune features a vibraslap, for hell’s sake), the bulk of the record’s midsection streaks the breezy feeling with that sobering sort of acknowledgement one gets when you’re ripe enough to recognize that life’s radiance needs to be ferociously appreciated, because its fleeting. Call it maturity, solemnity, or whatever-the-hell you want, it’s the sort of thing that brings a touch more darkness to the Valkyrie game. “Shadow of Reality,” for example, kicks off with a wonderfully smooth, buttery stretch that’s as pleasant as a late August afternoon on a hillside, but that beautifully somber span at its close delivers a warmly pensive touch. The aptly titled “Wintry Plains” throws similar shade, feeling a bit like a heavier version of Robin Trower at times:
There is an undeniable comfort and optimism that comes along with the immediately recognizable vocal harmony of the Adams brothers, however, so the good times are never far away. Plus, despite the fact that all the players get plenty of opportunity to shine, Pete and Jake’s twin axe attack takes center stage once again, and that means melodic fret-fondling combustibility on a Slough Feg (via Thin Lizzy) level. Suffice to say, if fiery leads ain’t typically your thing, run away as if your mother’s life depends on it. Every tune on Shadows is lifted by a double-headed attack of leads that either climb like gliders on a thermal, or split the sky like eagles fuckin’, and they’re directly responsible for delivering a sense of urgency to the record that spurns the typical couch-sloth temperament in favor of inspiring action.
Shadows is a perfect representation of the sort of music that travels easily alongside just about any good time, whether it’s getting destroyed on the couch, taking in a crushing vista, or jumping to the patio speakers at that family gathering before your annoying cousin taints the Summer vibe with two hours of Brad fucking Paisley. Tags be damned, the bottom line is that Valkyrie knows how to deliver a highly pleasant form of heaviness, and that’s definitely a very favorable thing to have within arm’s reach.