For almost as long as heavy metal has been around, bands across the world have worshipped at the altar of legendary acts like IRON MAIDEN, MOTÖRHEAD and JUDAS PRIEST. One such band to take up these influences in recent years are London-based four-piece DEATH VALLEY KNIGHTS, whose new EP Valhalla Vintage is the latest in a long line of releases from bands looking to put their own spin on the tried-and-tested classic formula.
Opening with title-track Valhalla Vintage, the band immediately set out their mission statement, with driving dual-guitar riffing straight from the JUDAS PRIEST playbook accompanying frontman/guitarist Jake Thorsen’s powerful lead vocals – gritty one second and soaringly operatic the next. Clocking in at a touch under two and a half minutes long means this is the shortest song on the EP by some distance, however, as an opening taste of what DEATH VALLEY KNIGHTS are about, it’s more than enough to excite the listener and get them interested in what’s to come.
Packing one of the EP’s most immediately-satisfying opening riffs, Be The Grizzly is very much in a similar vein – with chugging riffs set to a breakneck rhythmic pace. Easily the strongest track on Valhalla Vintage, here all of the band’s members are blatantly firing on all cylinders, from the frantic pounding of drummer Hugo Terva and metronome-tight rhythmic underpinning of bassist Ashley Porter, to the skyscraper-massive guitar work of Thorsen and fellow axeman Pawel Matuszkiewicz. This all eventually crescendos to the EP’s most melodic moment, as all pretence of heaviness subsides for a beautifully melodic guitar solo that slowly fades the track down into nothingness as it comes to a close. In a release mostly comprised of balls-out heavy riffing, it’s a welcome reprieve, and one carried out with wonderful virtuosity.
Next up is Legacy, which picks the pace back up again almost immediately and comes crashing in with the all the subtlety of a gunshot going off. Vocally anthemic and packing yet more headbang-ready riffing, it’s probably one of the most musically-simplistic sounding moments on Valhalla Vintage, however that’s not to say it’s unenjoyable – quite the opposite. Once again spearheaded by driving guitar riffs drenched in crunchy distortion, and sounding somewhere between ACCEPT in places and AIRBOURNE in others, this is driving hard rock at its most gratifyingly fun.
Filing the penultimate spot on this release, Taste Of The Kill is yet another fast-paced rocker, and one with more than just a touch of JUDAS PRIEST about it. Jake Thorsen again delivers another top-notch vocal performance here, channelling his inner Rob Halford to great success, and showcasing a musical ability. There’s a hint of MEGADETH in the mix this time too, as the quickened tempo threatens on multiple occasions to border on thrash metal, whilst still maintaining the swaggering power that DEATH VALLEY KNIGHTS have exhibited up until this point.
Closing off the EP in equally strong style is the rousing Shut Up And Drink, a fairly self-explanatory number that opens with some almost-psychedelic effect-laden guitar work, before quickly kicking back into the kind of pace that DEATH VALLEY KNIGHTS have exhibited throughout the rest of the EP. It’s a refreshingly different start, given how much of a similar feel the rest of the record can have at times, however that’s not to say the remainder of the track is sub-par either – in fact, the impressive lead vocal performance, tight riffing and rousing gang vocals here combine to evoke imagery of some of the genre’s best; even managing to sound vaguely reminiscent of DIO in some of its vocal nuances.
On the whole, Valhalla Vintage is far from the most original release in the world in terms of its style, however it is an incredibly fun slab of hard-rock goodness that manages to impress consistently throughout. Throughout its all-too-brief 22 minute runtime, the members of DEATH VALLEY KNIGHTS wear their classic influences on their sleeves and manage to pull out five incredibly solid tracks with almost zero moments of filler. It’ll be highly interesting to see how the band progress from here on out, however Valhalla Vintage is certainly one hell of an indication that classic-inspired rock and roll is still very much alive and well in 2017.
Valhalla Vintage is out now via self-release.
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