Luck is a weird thing. For Bradford’s own death metal Vikings they’ve definitely seen both sides this year. Hopefully though this sadly delayed album finally seeing the cold winter light of day (delayed through no fault of band or even the label it was supposed to be released by) ends a Bloodstock playing year on a high.
Ok. Cards on the table. I’ve grown to be a fan of this lot because of their ever improving live performances where they are now an outrageously tight, punishing, rabble rousing force that bring the fight to any stage. Their debut 2015 self released album Helheim was ok but didn’t come close to capturing that. So yeah, more a little concern crept in when I agreed to review this.
First up though that sleeve is just great. A proper cover, and as hungry as you hope a band are. Bodes well in this age of too many sloppy art voices being made by bands who should know better.
Opening track ‘Úlfhéðnar’ comes in on biting winter winds and unsettling horn sounds before the mid paced riff hammers down and we get a glorious, epic twin guitar melody line over the top. Cinematic, emotional and the production is so bright you squint for fear of going snowblind. It’s a step above your standard intro, but no time to breathe as ‘Brotherhood Of The Wolf’ stomps in. Once again the production opens this out beautifully and you are in no doubt that this is a death metal band. Melodic yes but but with a rough, hefty muscular punch behind the weighty riffs of Messers Kyle Moon and Neil Blanchett that keep it firmly in territory. Basically heavy as hell. Wayne Jackson’s death vocals are superb – varied and snarled like he’s twisting a sword through your guts and he takes this song by the scruff and plunges it into the battle. The energy and sense of dynamics here is spot on; a real sharp hammer down after a brief held breath, cutting lead breaks, and let’s just mention the rhythm section… Ben Cook powers on like a steamhammer but also has to keep that going through the time changes of course but also keep together with that bass. The bass? Well just to say that Valafar don’t do one note bass lines. One of the nicest things about this production for me is being able to hear Nige Mason’s bass – hell, it’s all gone a bit Cirith Ungol; bassist acting like he’s the lead guitarist..! He seriously does get the odd lead run in! Best thing about that though is when you hear what melody the bass throws in you really start listening to the full sound Valafar have and…it’s like watching some Viking double feint with a warhammer before crushing you skull. You listen to the urgency in ‘Bloody Spoils Of War’ (a song previously on their demo EP) but then realise how many of those intricate touches to bass, guitar, drum fills and even vocals there are you kinda just stop for a moment. And of course that’s when you get run over by a ten ton death metal Viking phalanx.
This is not what a little band from Bradford is supposed to sound like. This is…er.. Well fuck me this is actually pretty spectacular. No really it is. This is clambering over corpses to take on the big boys stuff. It’s uncompromising genuine death metal but catchy as hell. Amon Amarth and Entombed in a Yorkshire concrete mixer with passion, aggression and a fuck ton of hooks chucked in. This is just buzzing with energy, malicious joy and fists of metal.
I repeat: This is NOT what a little band from Bradford is supposed to sound like.
‘Odin’s Call’ is a brilliant march to war, another re-recording of a song from their demo EP given the 2018 treatment, an irresistible double punch-and-pound track that would have Obscurity wondering what hit them.
For me though they save the best to last. Already a live favourite, ‘Born Of The Nine’ begins with one guitar refrain, then joined in it by the second, and then the bass all together in sync. This builds such an urgency, a wave rising as it builds and finally bursts over with some gorgeous guitar runs and bass flourishes with flicked drum fills and that voice making you believe every damned word. It’s one you just can’t help but stick on repeat.
There it is. I deliberately haven’t done a track by track as you need to dive into this yourself. There are eight songs here, not one filler, not one too many to make it a chore. Jumps the longship, raids, gets out leaving a smoking ruin. The guys here have, for me, outdone my wishful ideas. Fist on heart I have genuinely not heard a better death metal album all year and haven’t heard one from the UK anywhere near to this in an age. Really. No hyperbole. Someone like Trollzorn or bigger needs to pick this up for distribution now!
This is a coming of age album, stepping up into the shield wall and declaring intentions.
Valafar, congratulations. Valhalla awaits.