Not sure what happened for the boys in Valkyrie since 2015, but it’s pretty clear that, at some point, the blue sky gave way to gray clouds. Judging by the song titles and lyrics on Fear, the Harrisonburg, Virginia, quartet’s fourth long player, it’s just been life and such, a series of the kinds of things we all feel pretty down about from time to time through the ebb and flow of our days. Funny thing, though: even though the musical response is a pretty clear reflection of those gathered clouds, it’s just us much the light behind them, the coping and growing and moving on we also do through the regular course of our daily lives.
“The Choice” is a sad song. Just listen to the plaintive ringing of those guitars. The main riff is sodden and sorrowful, heavy drums and bass trudging through the remorse and regret and hindsight bias sung by Jake Adams, somewhere between Robin Zander and Joe Jackson in his lament. But then follow the guitars up and out of the final verse and keep climbing with them, building, growing, grabbing onto determination to push through the dark. On the other side, the notes, the riffs, the melody are the same as before, but it all feels different now as the drums pick up pace and the guitars and bass gather energy to move on. The sadness is still there, but it’s a little more pliable now, as if with the knowledge that even this is as temporary as it is necessary and sure to recur.
The struggle of hopefulness against resolute melancholy courses through all of Fear. On the one hand, it can come off like the smile that hides the pain (hello, Harold) but if you let yourself feel those guitars, imagine living the experiences Adams sings (because you have, we all have), then you’ll remember that the smile understands the pain and that, in fact, they’re interdependent.
Valkyrie couches that emotional experience in sounds of the 70s, akin to that spirit as they are, and which is reflected so warmly and lovingly in Fear’s Sanford Parker production. All the way back to their self-titled debut, it’s been pretty obvious that the Adams brothers listened to a lot of The Allman Brothers Band growing up, but also early Iron Maiden and especially Thin Lizzy. In fact, in its emotional transitions, the songwriting on Fear (primarily Jake’s but ultimately a product of the whole band), seems to draw a great deal on the affective dexterity of Phil Lynott; consider, for example, the lithe emotive slide of vitality in “King’s Vengeance” into the acquiescence of “Spirit Slips Away” as a likely inspiration. A buoyant bridge and solo in “Afraid to Live” invert that transition within the song from hopelessness to a brave embrace of the inevitable unknown. “Brings You Down” is such a bummer of a song, and the depth of that downer mood is true testament to its songwriting, but even it fires it up and finishes strong with a wonderfully fervid clenched fist solo. “Fear and Sacrifice,” the best song on the album, briefly recalls Fleetwood Mac in the intro and then follows proudly in the footsteps of Wishbone Ash throughout. It’s a sad song, too, in its way, but mostly contrite and once again there is just so much power in the twin guitars of Jake and Pete Adams, rising and radiating a sense of burgeoning hope. Go ahead and try not to squeeze your eyes and air guitar along for a full three-and-a-half minutes and 1.21 gigawatts of pure rock and roll electricity from the Adams Bros.
You don’t even need to get into all this feelings stuff to enjoy this record. The guitars are so strong and the songwriting so good, the production so robust and lush, that Fear stands on its own merits regardless, in line with the stellar reputation Valkyrie has rightly garnered over the years. If all you can muster in the way of empathy and understanding is to like a record when it fits your mood, that’s fine. Most people are that way and that’s okay. But if you really love music, if the idea of truly connecting with the artist through a piece of art resonates with you on some deeper level, then realize that Fear represents an extraordinary path to catharsis and Valkyrie welcomes you to walk it with them.