Do a quick Google (or should I say YouTube) search of vocalist PelleK. If you are not familiar with this name, you will discover that he loves selfies, modeled shots, filming himself singing other people’s shit, and acting in Norwegian TV shows. Though his solo work in Pellek is enough to make me wanna set myself on fire (which includes sixteen cover albums of EVERYTHING from Pokemon and Power Rangers themes to ’90s sitcom themes), his four-octave range is simply incredible. So, are Damnation Angels damnable fools for snatching him up for 2013’s Bringer of Light and 2015’s The Valiant Fire? Absofuckinglutely not. Mix Nightwish with Kamelot and put front-and-center a singer that seems a mutation in the vegetable garden (versus undistinguishable cabbage heads like Roy Khan, Tommy Karevik, and any other spiky-haired crooner) and you’ve got one hell of a combination of heavy and symphonic power metal that should satisfy those who can’t get enough of belting vocals, meaty guitars, bombastic drum work and epic orchestrations.
Mastermind Will Graney (White Empress keyboardist and ex-Cradle of Filth orchestral composer) has driven Damnation Angels from an independent power metal outfit with a terrific Shadow Symphony EP on to their Massacre Records debut, Bringer of Light. The latter was an excellent release, but it becomes apparent during The Valiant Fire‘s opener, “Finding Requiem,” that all of Graney’s extra curricular activities have turned this record into something uniquely his own. Even PelleK has broken free of a delivery stuck somewhere between Roy Kahn and Metalium‘s Henning Basse (don’t you fucking dare make fun of him). The opener is not only an incredible mix of all that is Damnation Angels, but it’s their quintessential song, and this sleeper has has taken the lead for my Song of the Year. It’s filled with all that is epic, catchy, and delivers the orchestral builds, crunchy guitars, and memorable riffage that puts it above the rest of their catalog. Thankfully, The Valiant Fire is filled with such moments and “Finding Requiem” doesn’t stand as a one-hit wonder.
Other highlights that grace this release are the nearly ten-minute journey of “The Frontiersman” (which immediately reminded me of Symphony X‘s “The Odyssey” for it’s acoustic guitars and wonderfully balanced atmosphere), “Closure” (with its insanely catchy riffs and vocal arrangements), and the slick instrumental “The Fire Inside.” While I’m not much a fan of instrumentals, Graney (with help from brother, drummer John Graney) does a swell job of channeling the over-the-top orchestration into a focused entity that the drums fence in and prevent from meandering. PelleK focuses on who he is and what he can do while the guitars focus on riffs that support the song rather than orchestral compositions forcing the six-stringer to the caboose.
But Damnation Angels wouldn’t be the Damnation Angels without a bit of a twist. Much like the inclusion of a cover of Metallica‘s “No Leaf Clover” on Bringer of Light, Damnation Angels drop an out-of-place track in the form of a somewhat Disney-inspired ballad. “The Passing” definitely has chops for being the the most ballady of ballads but there is more cheese here than an extra-large, stuffed-crust pie from Pizza Hut. When in mellow mode, this song has instances of Trans Siberian Orchestra‘s “Old City Bar” and its whimsical orchestration serves better as the background music for walking animal crackers up Liv Tyler’s stomach. It’s not horrible by any means (and way better than some of PelleK’s covers) but it smells like a Little League concession stand in here.
Overall, I adore this album. As closer “Under an Ancient Sun” fades away, I feel a revitalization in my love for this genre after the aforementioned bands have released nothing but average albums in recent years. Though this cheese wagon has an unfriendly compression ratio (but who doesn’t in this genre?), The Valiant Fire feels concise, fresh, and fun. If you like this type of metal, you will not be disappointed.