Thursday, June 2

Val Sans - Sword

Val Sans


Since heavy metal peaked in popularity in the 1980s, there have been a few important developments which pushed metal in new and exciting directions: Fates Warning completed their fusion of metal with progressive rock, Skyclad almost singlehandedly sparked an explosion of folk metal, Rhapsody and their contemporaries brought the growing neoclassical sound into its own with their epic orchestral landscapes, and songwriters such as Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) brought to the table an intensely poetic lyricism, raising the proverbial bar in terms of lyrical depth and emotion.

While this is all well and good, it is nice to hear a band that still plays metal the way it was: loud and heavy, with lots of riffs, and lyrics about battles, witches, heavy metal, or whatever else sounds powerful. Now that even heavy metal stalwarts such as Judas Priest and Manowar are trying to branch out into symphonic territory (and doing a rather mediocre job of it), this kind of band is becoming a bit of a precious commodity, and this is where Austria's Val Sans comes in. With the exception of a short folky section in "On the Battlefield" and a few death growls interspersed throughout the album, "Sword" could have easily been recorded in 1988, or even in 1984. This is pure, no-frills, pre-Helloween metal, and while it may not be very lyrically deep or musically intricate, one quickly realizes that this is perfectly fine - the value in "Sword" lies not in any metaphorical lyricism or technical wizardry, but in its power and passion.

That said, this is far from a perfect album. The vocals, while generally well-sung, are not perfect, and at times the singer's over-enunciation of words (perhaps covering up his accent?) can become grating after a while. The lyrics, while generally serviceable, occasionally venture a bit too far into cheese-land (see "The Allegiance," which features lines such as "Tell me what protects your soul/Heavy metal does it all!" and "I pledge allegiance/to the metal way of life"). And while most of the songs are fairly memorable, there are a few that fall behind the pack and end up dragging down the album as a whole.

However, when Val Sans is good, they create some brilliant tracks. I was personally very surprised at the aforementioned folky bit in "On the Battlefield," but after hearing it, the song as a whole came together very well. "Val Sans," despite being plagued by a bit of awkward English, is an awesome speed-monster of a track, featuring some great classic-metal riffing and an ever-so-metal story dealing with Morgan le Fay. The epic "Lady of the Lake," after falling flat on its face in the intro (probably the low point of the album), makes a spectacular recovery and becomes one of the most powerful and memorable songs on the album. And the album ends on a very strong note with the intense "Eppur Si Muove."

Despite its inconsistencies, "Sword" is a fun listen. It is strongly rooted in the mid-80s style of metal: loud, fast, and heavy, with little progressive noodling or cross-pollination with other genres. Though there are some weak tracks here, there is also some very strong material, and I would recommend "Sword" to any fan of classic metal looking for an up-and-coming band in this style.

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Morpheus's rating: 3.0/5

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