Tuesday 8 January 2019

Valiant Bastards - Harbingers of Chaos (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy/Thrash Metal
Rating: 5/10
Release Date: 1 Jan 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

I have to applaud Portland's Valiant Bastards for conjuring up such a memorable name. The Heartless Bastards may still have the edge, but I like this too. I also have to applaud them for playing just what the hell they want to without pandering to current fashion. This is old school eighties metal with an eye for power and hints of thrash and that's refreshing to my nostalgic soul. I love how metal is getting more diverse in sound every day but sometimes I just want to headbang to something simple.

Well, this fits that bill very well. It's a 45 minute set of chugging metal that does nothing flash and features clean vocals that have no interest in being an instrument. If that's what you're looking for, it does the job well enough. If it isn't, then it may seem old fashioned and forgettable to the modern generation.

The band have been around since 2013 and this is their debut album, but only three of the ten songs are new. Three were on their Goin' Deep EP back in 2016 and six were on their 2017 live album, Live Dudes. I know three plus six doesn't equal seven, but two of those tracks were on both previous releases, making this their third in a row.

That said, the best songs here are the new ones. The opener, Harbinger, is intriguing from the outset with its oddly pensive intro. It's six and a half minutes long and it remains instrumental for almost three of them. It's good stuff, albeit good stuff I'd expect to find from a Toranaga album with a solid sense of power, a couple of heads down thrash sections and a cool interlude late on.

Toranaga remain a reference point on the other two new tracks, King of the Depths and Warchief, the latter of which also tops six minutes, even though nothing else on the album manages to reach five. King of the Depths runs much shorter but, like Harbinger, Warchief has a careful construction to it and it's happy to run fast or slow to meet the need.

While it's decent enough stuff throughout, it's sadly easier to point out downsides than upsides. Lucas Salazar's vocals aren't bad but they're routine. A singer whose voice stands out from the crowd would have elevated some of this material. Also, he's very high in the mix, enough so that it sometimes overwhelms the musicianship behind him. Like the vocals, the rest of the band are capable enough but rarely warrant any special praise. They just do their job. There are some good riffs here and some good transitions but I was just as likely to wonder if drummer Scott DeRosia was having a little trouble keeping up.

I can't say I didn't enjoy this. It does what it does and I've heard a lot worse in this style over the decades. I'd be happy to see Valiant Bastards live too, to see if they sound bigger and better with volume and a crowd (and a beer). However, the band know that they're not doing anything new and that's kind of the point.

If that's the inherent downside, the upside is that they're clearly getting better. A Harbingers of Chaos album full of new material like Harbinger and Warchief, even King of the Depths, would be much more enticing. Let's see what the next album's going to be like with all new songs and none of the retreads.

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