Dear brothers and sisters, dear enemies and friends: it is okay to smile. Walpyrgus, the outstanding new(ish) project from members of Twisted Tower Dire, While Heaven Wept, and Daylight Dies that is more interested in heavy metal as an idea than heavy metal as a single sound, is here, I think, to make you smile. On their rambunctiously fun debut Walpyrgus Nights, the band seems to have crafted these tremendous songs such that, at least several times per song, the attentive listener will do just that.
On paper, the traddy power of Twisted Tower Dire, the extravagantly symphonic laments of While Heaven Wept, and the melodic doom/death of Daylight Dies are strange bedfellows. Does it help to hear that that’s not even the half of it? If you tend to fall in the “heavy metal = very serious business” camp, you’d better buckle up, because Walpyrgus Nights is probably the very first true heavy metal album that’s also at least 50% a pop-punk album. Hi, hello, how are you; this is fine. But no, I’m not joking. Walpyrgus frequently drops their guitars into power chords, their drums into punk beats, and their vocals into the sort of high-range, tight-harmonied, infectious melodicism that absolutely screams SoCal pop-punk. But the thing is, nothing sounds like a Fat-Wreck-Chords-covers-NWOBHM piss-take. Heavy metal is awesome. Punk rock is awesome. Pop music is awesome. Ain’t no great mystery there.
Walpyrgus also loves Iron Maiden (particularly the first three albums). And Rush. And the Misfits. Guess what? I love those things, too! That a band would aim to merge these disparate musical threads isn’t exactly surprising; what is a bit startling is just how seamlessly the whole thing works. Of course, by making too much of the novelty present here, I’m obscuring the real reason Walpyrgus Nights is such a ridiculous success: the songs. Track after track on this powerful, self-assured, and just plain fun debut will be stuck in your head almost immediately (and for days after – I actually had to take some time away from this record while working on this review because I simply could NOT get some of the songs out of my head).
Walpyrgus Nights opens with two of its strongest tunes, the scene-setting “Dead of Night” and the scene-stealing “Somewhere under Summerwind.” On the latter song, the vocal harmonies in the chorus are a dead ringer for Irish folk/heavy metallers Darkest Era, and at the end Twisted Tower Dire’s Jonny Aune belts out an absolutely killer, Halford-esque ascending wail. Although Walpyrgus Nights is primarily a showcase for Aune’s acrobatic vocals and the playful mastery of guitarists Scott Waldrop (also of TTD) and Charley Shackleford (of Daylight Dies), Tom Phillips of While Heaven Wept also provides some relatively understated but nevertheless hugely important keyboard accompaniment throughout. Although the keys sometimes nod to Somewhere in Time, his solo break towards the end of “Summerwind” is drenched in some very wistful WHW vibes, and the very first downbeat of the album-closing title track lays down a fantastic nod to “Tom Sawyer.”
“Palmystry” dips its toes in some rockabilly rhythms, while “Dead Girls” and “Lauralone” both play up the horror-punk atmosphere. Nevertheless, even when the lyrics delve into the gruesome or macabre, the music is almost relentlessly effervescent, ensuring that you’re in the kind of horror movie where the actors are laughing along with you. Truth be told, it’s difficult to find much to fault with this stellar album. “She Lives” trudges too much and feels a bit underdeveloped compared to the rest of the songs (although the Hammond organ is a very nice touch), but the album’s overall pacing is economical and engaging, the choruses are outrageously catchy, the solos are beautiful distractions, and the cover of Witch Cross’s “Light of a Torch” is both brash and respectful.
Do you read thinkpieces about heavy metal? Do you follow the bold but underdeveloped editorials that spark wave after wave of impassioned rebuttal? Do you get upset when more mainstream outlets cover heavy metal without the requisite reverence (and/or basic knowledge)? (Hint: I am guilty of this constantly.) I try not to, mostly, because the outrage->click economy doesn’t need my tiny portion of grease to keep its wheels spinning. Think about it like this: if that whole maelstrom of opportunistic and/or self-righteous bloggy word-flinging is like me, a man in his 30s with a job and a mortgage and children and occasionally creaky joints, ambling to the public library to research the historical and sociological antecedents of urban gardening movements, then Walpyrgus Nights is like a kid wearing a dinosaur costume while flipping sweet skateboard tricks and high-fiving the universe. I think your choice is clear.