Thursday, November 12, 2009

Valkija - Avengers Of Steel

I've had only one near death car accident in the past before hearing Valkija's Avengers of Steel; a bizarre inner desire to destroy myself and all around me while listening to dystopian attitude of Coroner's Mental Vortex. I was genuinely affected by the trio's twisted mind-altering masterpiece. Valkija hit me in a different way... and I still have the bruise to prove it. One of my .99 cent finds at the local record store, I wasn't expecting much from any of the twenty discs I exhumed from sure destruction in a garbage compactor so when I put Valkija's only full length album into my car stereo I was expecting to spend fifty minutes of dross. Instead, I had to think quickly. When the opening seconds of "The Lost" kicked in my jaw dropped directly to my thigh, weighing down my pedal-foot. I wound up having to drive with my left foot controlling the brakes and the gas. My mandible remained distended for the rest of the day including the drive home from school and another full listen to what has now become, in my opinion, one of the greatest metal finds in my memory.

Valkija play the overlooked style of power metal - better known as the good kind. Ballsy melodies and riffs and extremely well written and varied songs. Avengers of Steel has it all - Epic metal voyages, traditionally structured anthems and power ballads if you can even call them that. Valkija are ultimately in the same boat for me as Shadow Keep, a band which has quickly risen into the upper echelons of power metal hierarchy ever since playing with them over in Tilburg, Netherlands. Much like Shadow Keep's debut Corruption Within, Valkija's Avengers of Steel contains strong tints of progressive forerunners like Fates Warning and Queensryche. Both acts share a penchant for using thrashy riffs as the base for the verses and catchy - yet I repeat bad ass - traditional metal choruses and bridges. Both bands share the ability to write hooks. Both bands also have a lone female member though while Shadow Keep's vixen, Nicki Robson, busies herself crushing listeners with her rhythm guitarist abilities Valkija's Zoraija (Anna Amato) is keen to enchant and melt with her witch - spells.

I can not stress enough how awesome Zoraija's vocals are on Avengers... This isn't your operatic bullshit flower metal like Nightwish. No, Zoraija's got more balls - metaphorically speaking - than 99% of all male metal vocalists. Make that 99.9% if you're talking about all genres. Yeah, she's got more cahones than just about any black metal, death metal, thrash and doom metal vocalist. She's got more attitude than a poked and prodded rabid raccoon with the ass-kicking ability of Chuck Norris. She's equal parts Joan Jett, Doro Pesch, Nicole Lee and, even though my Disney-expert-better-half disagrees with me, Grandmother Willow from Disney's Pocahontas. Fear not though, Zoraija hits high notes in "Son of Thunder" which would rip through all the bark and hardwood of a tree that wide with ease. But Zoraija isn't the sole member of the band. What astounded me was the role of bassist Nikoll Hamm. Not only does he supply bottom end but takes a major role in the general architecture of the songs on the album acting an adhesive between riffs, melodies and the rhythm and lead sections. Guitarist John Turturro's playing is fantastic in every sense - rhythms, leads, solos... across the entire span of the album he proves himself to be capable of just about everything in regards to his instrument. Sebastian Hamm's drumming is also superior. Overall, the four members have crafted a dynamic between them with the ability to simply pound out masterful metal songs.

So the rest? Well, prepare to headbang and raise your fists into the heavens with nine songs all worthy of mention in some form though for me, the real winners are the barrage of Avenger of Steel's middle tracks, "Hold On" firing the opening volley with a ballsy take on a traditional song structure, alternating between clean and distorted guitars and erupting into a chorus catchier than cancer. Title track "Steel Avenger" is blistering thrash / speed metal. With awesome leads from John Turturro and some of the album's heaviest riffs. Think Primal Fear mixed with Doro screaming in agony on top. "Hatchet Blade" both breaks up the album with a clean, melodic intro before hammering away at the gates of hell. One of the best mid-tempo crushers I've ever heard, "Blade" also has some awesome lead guitars in the style of Fates Warning's "Traveler In Time" which immediately renders me speechless. "Return Of The King" is another pathogen-like epidemic of metal memorability like "Hold On" though in a much more progressive structure. Epic, aggressive and dynamic, I listened to this song four times in a row before I got my fill... for the moment. Next time I played the disc, I replayed it another three times when I got to it. The crowning moment for most will be "Son of Thunder" a Manowar styled metal free-for-all and you know it immediately as Zoraija lets loose a banshee scream less than half a second into the song.

My main question in regards to this band is why aren't they at the top of everyone's list of great modern traditional metal bands? I can only answer that their lack of output may have done them a great disservice as far as staying fresh in the minds of the metal fan base however another release as excellent as "Avengers of Steel" will surely capture the ears of a wide variety of metal fans. Another problem may be their location. Italian bands seem to find it difficult to break out of their country. The only ones which have really become household names worldwide are Rhapsody (of Fire), Luca Turilli and Labyrinth though, in my opinion, none have released an album as encompassing as Valkija. Sadly, Valkija will continue to be overlooked and will pass by everyone without notice at the expense of both the band and the listener. It's a shame that we may never get another release from them. If so, I will gladly place Avengers of Steel in the rankings as one of the best old school metal albums I've ever heard.

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