I never thought of myself as a tech death fan. Coming from a thrash background, I never needed insane drum machine combos or faster-than-light scales to get my dander up. But after penning one tech death TYMHM this winter, I was struck by the notable divide between Dormant Ordeal and current beau Vale of Pnath. Though ostensibly bucketed under the same moniker, the contradictory pairing of debris-chucking crunch and groove and the lightning speed of unyielding fretwork bookend a remarkably different sonic spectrum. II, the Americans’ sophomore album, offers the latter, but not without drawing on equal parts melody, strict technicality, and deathcore. The result has me wondering how I missed this band in the first place.
Despite dropping debut The Prodigal Empire’s style of twisting ferocity into memorability, II stuffs a hell of a lot of character into its 39-minute runtime. Vale cut close to a Beyond Creation with less deathcore but overlap with The Black Dahlia Murder and Allegaeon in their melodic reliance. The screech-and-growl tandem and harmonious intent of “Heart of Darkness” illustrate II’s prominent TBDM comparisons, but even little moments like the opening drum flourish on “The Horror in Clay” draw my mind right to “Moonlight Equilibrium.” “Reaver,” too, plays off a central TBDM direction that is unexpectedly catchy, given how downright heavy it can be at times. Some of this stems from new vocalist Reece Deeter, who imprints the album with much of its brutality and spirit. His commanding growls tag-team with Alan Paredes’ essential stick-and-move bass work to offset Vale‘s supercharged guitar tones. Highlight “The Serpent’s Lair” distills a myriad of influences into the perfect blend of eclectic depth, murderous rage, and shockingly effective breakdowns. With everyone from Gorod’s Mathieu Pascal and Nicolas Alberny to Ryan Glisan (ex-Allegaeon) guest starring, you can be sure that the solo work on II wants for nothing.
The moderation and intent levied in Vale’s songwriting elevates II above The Prodigal Empire and into the higher echelon of tech death. The band wisely aim for a well-balanced middle ground, only taking as much from their influences as necessary. Vale’s technicality avoids in-your-face First Fragmenty, sticking to tangible construction instead of gluing Yngwie Malmsteen posters to the wall. Likewise, they never stray into full deathcore monotony; their chug sessions, such as on “The Serpent’s Lair,” provide the backbone for an ambush of spiraling rhythms that gladly take center stage. Smatterings of Necrophagist, Obscura, and even Vektor flesh the guitarwork out, while the restrained use of Allegaeon’s love-it-or-hate-it flamenco acoustics pops up now and again.
I find it difficult to gripe about an album of this magnitude. My major issues center on the sadly par-for-the-course DR5 mix and a few tracks that stick around past their natural end point. Overall, II is a fine piece of work that I only wish I’d gotten to sooner in the year. I am proud to say Vale of Pnath have inched me just a little closer to true tech death fandom.
Tracks to Check Out: “The Serpent’s Lair,” “Klendathu,” “The Horror in Clay,” and “Unburied”