Valkyrie, Shadows: A New Golden Age


It has been seven years since Virginia dual-guitar rockers Valkyrie issued their second album, Man of Two Visions, which was a record that never got its due. The core of the band has been and remains brothers Jake and Peter Adams, and with that second full-length following up their 2006 self-titled debut, they delivered a harmonized-lead kick in the ass to the traditions of Maryland-style doom, marking what seemed at the time like a generational shift in approach. The tones were organic, the vibe schooled but dipping back to ’70s rock in a way that, particularly at the time, was refreshing and exciting for an American band, and with just a touch of Southern heavy at its roots it seemed to hold promise that Valkyrie were bound to turn heads in the years to come.

In 2015, they make their debut on Relapse Records with Shadows, a 42-minute heavy-groover that boasts a track for its year of Valkyrie‘s absence — notable that opener “Mountain Stomp” was featured on a 2012 split with Earthling, whose Alan Fary here plays bass — and finds them no less ready than they were to be commended for their exploration of Pentagram-meets-Thin Lizzy vibes with the occasional flourish of Spirit Caravan‘s irresistible roll. With Warren Hawkins‘ drums setting the pace, Jake and Pete — the latter of whom joined Baroness on lead guitar in 2008 and also features in the latest live incarnation of Samhain — are at the fore as ever in Valkyrie, and Shadows is a guitar-lover’s guitar album, “Temple” showing off swirling leads while the aforementioned and aptly-titled “Mountain Stomp” and subsequent “Golden Age” reaffirm both the guitarists’ harmonic tendencies and the memorable songwriting that made the band such a standout during their initial run.

The heavy rock climate having shifted as greatly as it has in the last decade, and Baroness having ascended to the fore of progressive metal, it seems likely that Valkyrie‘s methods will garner more attention with Shadows than they had previously, and fair enough. It is a mature album, steady in its pace and naturalist in its intent, as “Golden Age” demonstrates in following and developing the nod of “Mountain Stop” with one of Shadows‘ more resonant hooks, and “Temple” affirms with a greater sense of spaciousness and sure-footed shuffle to bridge the lines of its verse. More than either of the opening two, “Temple” feels like a guitar showcase in its second half, but the simple fact is that the Adams brothers can pull that kind of thing off — easily, or at least easily-sounding — and emerge on the other end of six and a half minutes having long since departed the structure of a track without blisters either existential or on their already well-calloused hands.


Centerpiece “Shadow of Reality” refreshes a doomier spirit with peppered-in lead work and pushes through a midsection offsetting weightier impulses with airy tones on the way to a sun-soaked pastoral instrumental burst in its second half, the guitars locking step harmonically for a run no less memorable than the chorus subsequently referenced prior to the rumbling finish that leads the way into “Wintry Plains,” the longest track at 6:49 and a singular highlight for its patient feel, strong hook and rhythmic fluidity. That hook is reinforced, which makes a big difference compared to “Temple” or “Shadow of Reality” before it, the song moving into a jam and returning to the chorus before departing again at the close. One wouldn’t ask Valkyrie to do the same thing all the time, but even if it makes “Wintry Plains” the longest cut here — not by much; songs range on either side of six minutes — the extra seconds are well spent and go toward making the song a landmark for the band, which it is.

And the album is classic enough in its construction that “Wintry Plains” isn’t the last landmark to come, either. “Echoes (of the Way We Lived)” moves at a speedier clip than more relaxed earlier cuts like “Mountain Stomp” or “Golden Age” — though I wouldn’t go so far as to call anything on Shadows languid — and the effect it has is to sustain the momentum from the end of “Wintry Plains” over to closer “Carry On,” which leaves an impression that lasts much longer than the song’s six minutes, its theme and the repeated line, “Our voice will carry on,” as appropriate for a finishing track as it is for the story of Valkyrie in particular. With seven years between Man of Two Visions and their third, one can’t help but wonder if either or both of the Adams brothers are questioning if Shadows will be the last chapter in Valkyrie‘s story. It may well be, or it may be a new beginning, but whatever context time gives, it’s a worthy follow-up to their second album and a look at some of what the band might’ve been able to accomplish had they kept going the first time around.

To be perfectly honest, it’s a somewhat bittersweet listen on that level, since it’s easy to imagine that, had their circumstances not worked out the way they did, Valkyrie would probably be two or three records beyond their third offering by now, and there are points in making my way through Shadows where I ask what those could-have-been moments would sound like, where the obvious chemistry between Jake and Pete might have taken their songwriting. We may yet find that out — and better late than never, of course — and while it’s hard to hear these tracks and wonder if this is Valkyrie‘s shining moment or if that might still come, it’s worth remembering that in the intervening seven years they’ve been (mostly) gone, a new generation of American heavy rock fans has emerged, and for them, it’s just as likely Shadows will be a first exposure. On that level, it is nothing if not welcoming.

Valkyrie, Shadows (2015)

Valkyrie on Thee Facebooks

Valkyrie on Bandcamp

Valkyrie at Relapse Records

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