Valkyrie – Fear Review

Summertime is when I’m most susceptible to the bleary-eyed charms of jammy, fuzzed out retro/occult doom. That kind of music just seems to go with warmer days and brighter skies. Virginia’s Valkyrie play their cards right by dropping their 4th album in the middle of a New York heat wave, as my brain is already hot-wired to embrace what they’re doing on Fear. Featuring Baroness ex-pat Peter Adams  on guitar and vocals, the band plays the kind of 70s throwback doom rock you’ve heard a million times before from the likes of Witchcraft, Uncle Acid and Kadavar. There’s unmistakable talent here, and when the band jams it out, they can drag you forcibly through the purple hazy clouds and mushroom covered meadows of your wildest imagination. There’s always a market for such trippy tourism, and when things come together just right for Valkyrie, they’re as good a tour guide as anyone. But there’s trouble right here in Mushroomtopia.

First things first: the guitar-work from Peter Adams and Jake Adams makes this album hum and sizzle, even when other issues conspire to drag it downward. Their riffing and especially their stream of consciousness jam outs are the big highlights of Fear, and the best moments come when they really let it all go. While opener “Feeling So Low” is a decently rocking introduction to the band with some nifty fret-work reminiscent of Pentagram and Thin Lizzy in turns, it isn’t until second cut “Afraid to Live” that the music truly takes flight, and fly it does! This song has pretty much everything one could want in retro/occult doom. The guitars are high on fire and the extended solo jams are things of absolute beauty, full of groove, emotion and swagger. This tune was added to my summertime rock playlist before it was even halfway over, and there it will exist forevermore. There’s a lovely Blue Öyster Cult feel to the riffing and overall mood, and the Adams boys really show what they can do when inspiration bong-wallops them.

Sadly, the rest of Fear comes nowhere near achieving the same level of rocked out blissitude. Good moments abound, as on the rollicking and noodly “Loveblind” and the riff-centric aggressiveness of “Fear and Sacrifice” and “Evil Eye,” but too often the happy times train ride gets bumpy or grinds to a halt. “Brings You Down” is an accurately titled, downcast number that lacks the requisite smoking guitar-work, leaving the vocals to carry the day. I’m unsure which Adams takes the lead at the mic, but the singing is a very love or hate affair, and I don’t love it. While the delivery isn’t that different from Uncle Acid, it comes across as too nasally and whiny. It’s not quite an album killer, but it’s not on the plus side of the ledger either. “The Choice” also suffers from an energy deficit, though the riffs are a bit more mentally stimulating. Sadly, each time the album ends, I’m forced to acknowledge there are only scattered moments that really seize my attention and get me engaged, and most of them occur during “Afraid to Live.” My geriatric compadre Huck described the album as one to spin while rebuilding a lawn mower engine in the garage with a few buddies and he’s not wrong. It’s fuzzy guitar rock you can play in the background and nod along to mindlessly, just don’t expect it to grab your cerebral cortex all that often.

I’m impressed with the Adams as guitarists, and they prove once again that guitar rock should let the guitars do most of the talking. They anchor their playing in the 70s well and you can almost smell the ganja as things get extra fuzzy. I’m also quite fond of the big, buoyant bass presence courtesy of Alan Fary. While the vocals are not exactly what I want in this or any kind of music, they aren’t bad enough to drive me away. I just wish the songs were more consistently great and there were fewer downer moments.

Fear is a lot like Opulent Decay by Spell. It’s an album full of great guitar-work partially undone by inconsistent songwriting. If Valkyrie gives me an album with more songs on the level of “Afraid to Live,” I will sing their praises far and wide throughout the summerlands. Until then, I can only recommend Fear for fuzz-heads and less discerning retro rockers. For the rest of us, this is likely a playlist cherry picker. Less Fear, more beer (and jams).

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 24th, 2020

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