Full-length number three from Josh Graham’s A Storm Of Light finds the band smoothing off some of the rough edges from previous albums, but coming off the worse for the polish job. There is a very fine line between hypnotic and repetitive, and A Storm Of Light unfortunately trips headlong over the wrong side of the fence and into duller pastures. It’s somewhat rare for a band to make its least interesting statement on album number three, but that’s precisely what transpires with the portentously-named As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade.
“Missing” is not a particularly compelling opener – it’s catchy, but begins to grate, and it’s not just down to Kim Thayil’s noticeable but underwhelming presence that it ends up sounding like a 3/4-speed grunge tune. As The Valley Of Death… doesn’t have much in the way of compelling riffs, and the ones that do stir that primal urge to bang the head are so vitiated by a lack of punchy guitar tone that they almost lapse into non-riffs. “Oh, look, there goes a chord flying by. Wonder if they’ll send a few others after it. Yep, there you go. Neat.” The drumming on “Black Wolves” livens things up a bit by trying to swing while everyone else tries desperately to plod, with acoustic guitar providing a nice texture throughout the moody midsection. But again, the guitars punch way below their weight, so just before the solo comes in around the five-minute mark, where the return to the song’s main riff ought to be totally crushing, instead it’s just another gentle transition from one smooth hard tone to another.
At their worst, these songs stomp and moan and rattle with so little variation that Týr (also known as “The World’s Most Boring Band”) starts sounding positively brilliant. “Wretched Valley” is one of the worst offenders in the pitiless repetition department, as is “Leave No Wounds,” which not only flirts cloyingly with some indie textures, but also serves as an unflattering display for Graham’s frequently annoying lyrics. Moreover, Graham’s vocals are in the flat, often-nasal style of Aaron Turner’s clean vocals, and while those vocals worked in Isis because they were interspersed with paint-stripping hoarse bellows, here Graham’s one style suffers from lack of contrast. All of this critical thrashing around probably makes out like I hate this record, which I do not. I still enjoy the band’s overall sound, and if I’m not expecting to be enraptured, or not paying particularly close attention, As The Valley Of Death… is a pleasant enough diversion.
And it’s not all bad news and backhanded compliments. “Death’s Head” finally gets some really nice open space between its tones, allowing the sharp molar gnawing of the organ to cut cleanly through. Album closer “Wasteland” is also significantly more interesting, even though it doesn’t come up with enough ideas to sustain its ten minute length. On the strength of the last album, 2009’s Forgive Us Our Trespasses, I know this band can do more, and particularly given the pedigree of the criminally underutilized guests here, it’s disappointing that album number three seems to mark such a backward stumble.
If there’s nothing truly disastrous about this album, then there’s also nothing spectacular to recommend it to any but the most avid trackers-down of anything with even the slightest whiff of Neurosis clinging to it. To get right down to it, despite the fact that A Storm Of Light seems to catch a fair amount of shit for how much they ostensibly come across as a lesser version of Graham’s co-conspirators in Neurosis, I think a little more Neurosis and a little less Jesu would suit this record just fine. A little more dirt and a little less sheen; a little more earth and a little less sky.