Perhaps it’s hard to believe Cincinnati riffers Valley of the Sun are only on their second LP because the band came out of the gate so assured in their approach. Since their early going with a 2010 demo and the 2011 EP The Sayings of the Seers (review here), the group — with the core duo of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier and drummer Aaron Boyer now joined by bassist Ringo Jones and guitarist Chris Harrison — have given the impression of knowing exactly what kind of band they want to be. Some groups flounder early, finding themselves, and I won’t knock that, but through The Sayings of the Seers and the 2014 debut LP, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk (review here), Valley of the Sun have left no question as to their intent.
They excel at delivering driving, fuzzed-out heavy rock and roll marked by quality songwriting, clever shifts in tempo and feel, and a crispness to their presentation. Their second album, Volume Rock — out, like the debut, on Fuzzorama Records — continues the thread and brings a new batch of material that has already seen them back on the road in Europe, growing their reputation among US riff exports. Like its predecessor, Volume Rock traffics in air-tight structures and demonstrates a clear sense of control on the part of the band — it may or may not have been recorded with just Ferrier and Boyer, I don’t know; they’re the only ones in the pictures — who begin by showing something of a playful side with stick clicks at the start of opener “Eternal Forever” before unfolding a varied but uniformly well executed push of riffs and desert-style vibes.
“Eternal Forever” is an energetic launch to Volume Rock, immediately earning the album’s title, but also a setup when taken in combination with the subsequent two tracks, “Wants and Needs” and the shorter “The Hunt” (video premiere here). All three are barnburners, Valley of the Sun careening at top or near-top speeds through, building momentum as the hook of “Eternal Forever” and the handclaps in “Wants and Needs” and Ferrier‘s vocals leave impressions behind from the blur. That momentum hits a peak with “The Hunt,” which is perhaps the most efficient inclusion here at a speedy, lean 2:19, but it pairs with “Land of Fools,” the longest cut at 5:45 which reimagines the central start-stop rhythm of Truckfighters‘ “Monte Gargano” during its verse and signals a clear shift into Volume Rock‘s next phase.
There’s an instrumental bridge in the second half, but much of the additional runtime comes just from Valley of the Sun riding the chorus, which they’re right to do. The entire track is a hook, and one of the record’s best, and followed by the slower, bigger-sounding “I Breathe the Earth,” which enacts its nod early and doesn’t let go for its duration, weaving through solos early and late amid well-positioned verses, non-lyric vocals following the riff, and call and response thrust along by Boyer‘s crash. Momentum from the opening salvo continues to carry Valley of the Sun forward, even as they begin to push outward from the directness of, say, “Wants and Needs,” but anyplace they go, they never fail to invite the listener along for the trip, and that accessibility proves to be one of Volume Rock‘s greatest strengths.
In accordance with that, Volume Rock is also the most identifiable as themselves that Valley of the Sun has ever sounded. Their beginnings drew heavily from tipping a balance to one side or another of Kyuss and Fu Manchu, and Ferrier‘s vocals still have some of that John Garcia gut-push, but the subtle shift of these elements into something more of the band’s own is evident in the starts and stops and melody of “Speaketh the Shaman,” a mid-paced, catchy groover that opens fluidly in its chorus. The roots from which they’re working are still discernible, but no less discernible is what Valley of the Sun are adding of themselves to that mix. “Beneath the Veil” returns to the kick-in-the-ass ethic of the album’s start, leading to a gradual slowdown with “Solstice” and “Empty Visions,” which closes out on a note akin to “Breathe the Earth,” but suitably placed as the finale for Volume Rock as a whole.
As they make their way out with one last hook brought to its apex, Valley of the Sun offer reinforcement of their progression, the soul in their approach that’s there despite its clean presentation, and the utter lack of pretense that has defined them for the last six years. When I first heard The Sayings of the Seers, I tagged them as having the potential to be one of the best of an upcoming generation of heavy rock. They’ve had lineup shifts since then and have turned their focus toward touring Europe exclusively, but in terms of the quality of their material, the raw craftsmanship of it, they continue to excel. And at this point, still just two albums deep, it only seems fair to expect no less.