Pathfinders – Ares Vallis Review

Mars is all the rage right now. The Perseverance Rover recently successfully landed on its surface, and by the time you read this, the Ingenuity helicopter may have become the first powered flight on another planet. All this was made possible by the original Pathfinder that landed on Mars in 1997, and the Sojourner Rover, which took the first pictures from the surface. I was in high-school at the time, and the notion of a remote-control car on Mars blew my fucking mind. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one. France’s Pathfinders, a progressive groove metal band formed in 2018, have used that event as inspiration for both their name, and their debut album, Ares Vallis. Ares Vallis is an outflow tract on Mars that appears to have been carved by fluids, potentially water. This represents a beacon of optimism for humanity: if Mars had water once, could it have it again? And could this be a home for us in the future? Pathfinders is itching to explore.

To push a metaphor to infinity and beyond, Pathfinders’ sound is a robotic casing of groove metal which houses a metalcore rover that it uses to explore expansive concepts of the infinite. The metalcore tag can be a poisonous one in these parts, so let’s be clear straight off the bat: Pathfinders is more Killswitch Engage and less Zao. More djent and less prog. This is your high-school chewing-gum metalcore, back when Linkin Park seemed edgy. This will be deal-breaker for some, and if you are one of those folks who can’t stand the sound, I bid you farewell and Godspeed as you take the escape pod on your journey to the next review. For everyone else, deploy those parachutes, buckle those seatbelts and hang on tight. Entry into Ares Vallis is gonna be bumpy.

The biggest problem with the album is that the further it strays from its comfort zone (or “groove,” if you will), the more unstable it becomes. When Pathfinders sticks to straight up-and-down metalcore, the results are fun: there are some cool riffs (“Impostors”), interesting breakdowns (“Evolution”) and enough djenty passages to give your neighbors a headache. The problem comes when the band tries to expand its sound into new territory. Lead singer Clément Levy is clearly passionate and committed, but his voice strains and buckles when he stretches it, and his performance is representative of the band itself. When the music throttles up (“Annihilate Them All”), the compositions lose their way and devolve into aimless chords and unconnected shrieks. When the music slows down, (“The Light”) it sounds maudlin and unconvincing, with those high notes proving particularly unpleasant for the listener. Pathfinders are stuck in a mire: they clearly have expansive ambitions, but those ambitions, for the most part, simply don’t work.

The other issue is that there aren’t enough ideas here to sustain the album’s long running time (54 minutes). Too many songs simply meander, recycling the same riff or breakdown over and over before juddering to a halt after about 4 and a half minutes. This formula is repeated over and over, and because of the strained vocals and sound, the run-time draws out like a blade. Very few of the songs actually progress beyond their opening melodies, so the majority of the length is repetition. Getting through Ares Vallis in a single sitting was a challenge because, frankly, I was bored.  There are only so many breakdowns and shrieked howls and djent riffs you can absorb before it all becomes numbing.

Overall, Ares Vallis is not a particularly pleasant listening experience. This is a pity, because the ideas and commitment from the band are laudable. Unfortunately, the execution is weak. There are some cool riffs, and catchy moments, but these are lost in static, bloated songs which too frequently collapse under their own ambition. Pathfinders are clearly aiming for the stars, but unless they get their sound and vocals sorted out, they’re doomed to never leave earth’s atmosphere.



Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Music-Records
Releases Worldwide: April 16th, 2021

« »