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VALLEYS Experiment One: Asylum

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, February 11, 2016 @ 1:21 PM

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Experiment One: Asylum


What should have been a time of triumph and joy for Raleigh, N.C., sextet VALLEYS turned tragic when “dirty” vocalist Mikey Clement – brother of bassist Brandon Clement - was killed in a car accident just days before a show opening for FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE and a week prior to the release of the band's debut full-length.

Though VALLEYS understandably bailed on the FLESHGOD gig, the band has vowed to soldier on and planned to pay tribute to Clement at a hometown album release show Feb. 12, as well as honoring the rest of its upcoming live commitments. How VALLEYS will bounce back over the long term, of course, remains to seen, but here's hoping the band's luck turns for the better on the road ahead.

As for the new album, it’s certainly worth whatever support the band is able to muster for it. As you can probably guess from its title, Experiment One: Asylum is a pretty ambitious debut for this progressive/metalcore act, a thematic work built around a character's battle with multiple personality disorder that concludes rather eerily with “The Death Of Me”.

And Clement's “dirty” vocals play a key role of the band's sound here. He doesn’t just stand on the sidelines waiting to play “bad cop” during breakdowns or add a modicum of brutality. His imposing guttural roar often dominates the mix, even as clean vocalist Jayson Mitchell chimes in for the emo-ish choruses, plays Clement's “good cop” foil or provides the higher-end scream-o hollering.

While this two-headed monster vocal approach certainly has gotten just as played out as the metalcore that so often employs it, it at least is appropriate here given the album's concept, capturing the contrasting/conflicting emotions of the main character with some degree of effectiveness. Mitchell's cleans tend to be a bit nasally/whiny – especially on “The Death Of Me” - and often seem over-matched when either he or Clement let loose. But they can provide a welcome sense of calm, especially given the musical turbulence that surrounds them, and ultimately serve a purpose.

Blending PERIPHERY-like prog-metal/djent, melodic hardcore/death metal, metalcore, tech-death and even some industrial/electronic splashes, VALLEYS – for better or worse - offers a lot to chew on Experiment One. While the band wisely avoid the usual concept album contrivances, using the narrative thread for continuity instead of relying on segues or interludes or obvious sonic devices, the music can be a bit erratic when the sextet tries to be too clever, as with the jazz odyssey midway through “10,000 Pieces” or Salsa-fied finale to “Compassion” or fall back on clichés like the rote breakdowns on, again, “The Death Of Me”.

That said, the balance of the material here is well conceived and equally well executed. The tumultuous rhythms of drummer Robert Meikle and the aforementioned Brandon Clement dodge and parry nicely with the elastic guitar work of Brandon Scurlark – though there are so many layers here, I can't imagine how he pulls this stuff off live without a second, or even third, guitarist, unless he's got more than two hands or cheats with backing tracks.

There's almost always a delicate, finger-picky undercurrent to counter Scurlack's concussive djenty riff bombs or a tangled web of runs up and down the fretboard when he really gets his prog on, as on “Finding Solace.” To his credit, though, it's impeccably played yet rarely seems showy or indulgent, despite the complexity of the music and grandiosity of the arrangements.

This very easily could have become a ham-handed mess or a tedious wank-fest, but Scurlack and company deftly navigate the music's twists and turns as Mitchell and Clement play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the mics. And there are genuine songs here instead of a mere mish-mash of musical movements, which again works to make the conceptual aspirations of the album less obvious. VALLEYS aims pretty high with Experiment One, a debut that really lays it all out there. But the band largely hits the mark on it and gives itself something to build on, should the fates allow.

3.0 Out Of 5.0

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