By: Matt Butler
Marius Danielsen's Legend of Valley Doom | website | facebook |
Released on November 13, 2015 via Crime Records
If you’re ever concerned that your metal is not epic enough, that it doesn’t feature enough bombast, battle depictions and heroic tales of medieval valour, for instance, or has a distinct lack of vocal histrionics and guitar acrobatics, then your worries are over. Because, as if you didn’t already know from the cover, this album provides all your power-epic-operatic-metal needs. Put simply, it’s bloody massive, in all respects. It tells a multi-generational story about a warrior king born into battle and faced with a quest to fulfil a prophecy through the medium of power metal. And get this: it features no fewer than 37 musicians – including Ross the Boss from Manowar and various other power metal alumni from, among others, Savatage, Yngwie Malmsteen’s band and Dokken – and more soaring choruses and po-faced spoken word passages about honour, hierarchy and historical fantasy than you will know what to do with.
It is a metal-head’s version of one of those “Monday morning commute” playlists that streaming services like Spotify provide. It may be as packed full of cheese as a French supermarket, but damn, it’s fun. Not that “fun” was likely to be the intention of Marius Danielsen, the Norwegian bassist/guitarist (he plays both on this album), when he set about gathering this clan no less than 10 years ago to bring his opera project to life.
The image of 37 metal musicians assembling to make an album of this magnitude is an arresting one. I pictured a gaggle of long-haired, leather-clad, chisel-jawed men, stripped to the torso, scowling, growling and stalking through the studio limbering up their fingers and vocal chords, while the drummers pump massive iron in a home gym set up in the corner. There is a smell of coal fires, animal skins and Deep Heat in the air.
The sole woman on the album (Elisa C Martin, of Hamka and Dark Moor) adjusts her dreamcatchers, while chanting invocations over the mixing desk. Then Danielsen sounds the clarion for work to begin. Ross the Boss starts things off with a flange-laden sustained power chord and follows up with a blistering scale of sixty-fourth notes ending in a long note drowning in feedback. There is a spontaneous guttural roar from the clan, the opening bars of ‘The Battle of Bargor-Zun’ begin and everyone falls into formation to produce massive heavy metal.
Or perhaps none of this happened. No matter, the opening track, setting the scene for the eponymous Legend, is still enormous. And it soon becomes clear that the division of labour is a democratic: each line is shared out between the vocalists, who all join for the rousing chorus of “We rise from the ashes like a phoenix we fly high. Spread our wings and fight for freedom ‘til the day we die”. If that isn’t enough for you to greet the day with a fist-pump, then you have to have a good hard look at yourself.
‘The Prophecy of the Warrior King’ follows and needs no explanation of its lyrical content (it tells the story of a warrior accepting his dead father’s crown, if you really want to know) but – guess what – it is enormous. From the call-response pre-chorus between a solo vocalist and a choir: “I accept (he accepts) my father’s crown (his father’s crown)” to the chest-beating chorus, it is another example of how power metal should be done. And I haven’t even mentioned the extended wailing which ends the song.
As if things can’t get more peacock-like, along comes ‘Chamber of Wisdom’, which out-Maidens Maiden for ascending melodic choruses and sports a rousing key change to finish. ‘The Mirror of Truth’ and ‘Haunting my Dreams’ fall a little flat in comparison, sandwiched as they are between the first three epics and the mammoth centrepiece, the 14-minute title track. To avoid any confusion – in case you hadn’t guessed already – despite the word “Doom” in the title of the album and this song, there is absolutey no doom here. This is pure power metal, as shiny as a freshly-sharpened broadsword.
And Legend of… is more than a song – it is a suite of musical theatre, with fret-burning shreds, tender, keyboard-accompanied vocals, a spoken section which takes the story forward (“The prophecy will be fulfilled and the dark lord’s reign of terror would be over”), and – of course – enough massive choruses to satisfy the most discerning of power metal fans.
Although this review may seem facecious (hey, I used to crease up with laughter at Manowar’s most serious and pompous moments like ‘Metal Daze’ and ‘Carry On’ – but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the music) it is worth pointing out that the musicianship is incredible and the participants clearly know how to write and play enormous music that would rouse the dead. You see, there’s a difference in being able to knock out a few power chords and lightning-fast solos and have a singer wail about battles, and being able to do it well. It doesn’t mean we have to take it seriously – hey, it is entertainment, after all.
After the exhausting ‘Legend’, the following songs, ‘Lost in a Dream of No Return’, featuring Martin on lead vocals, and ‘Raise Your Shields’ provide metal of a more standard variety. Melody is still a strong point (just try and get the chorus of ‘Shields’ out of your head once you’ve heard it), but they are straighforward meat-and-potatoes metal compared to some of the previous songs. ‘Free as the Wind’, however, with its lyrics of “In glory and pain our stand will remain, mighty swords held up high with a roaring from the sky” is one for galloping over a mountain pass in search of amulets with the breeze rushing through your hair. Listen to this one before work and I defy you not to high-five the boss.
The only thing is that early in the song that a symptom of having 37 musicians on one album becomes apparent, in the guise of a misplaced synthesised harpsichord solo. It is unnecessary and knocks a little of the stuffing out of the song.
The obligatory ballad comes right at the end, with ‘Fallen Heroes of our Land’ and, needless to say, it is gargantuan, if a little plodding, coming as it does after the most catchy, upbeat song on the album. It also rounds off the end of the story and, at risk of spoiling it for everyone, the king dies and the prophecy remains unfulfilled. But, the solemn deep, booming voice says, “There is still hope to bring down the Dark Lord”.
Too right there is. Because you can hit play and go through it all again. Take it from me: if you have even a tiny part of your music-loving brain which is a sucker for epic songs, you will rise to the challenge, accept thy fate, give in to destiny – you get the drift – and listen to this over and over again.