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Valhalla - Valhalla CD (album) cover

VALHALLA

Valhalla

 

Heavy Prog

4.05 | 23 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
4 stars One of my hobbies these days is tracking down music that in modern times is known as proto-metal. I prefer to call it first generation metal as it was during the years of 1969 to around 1973 that this new form of music really came into its own and earned the title "heavy metal".

This new sub-genre grew out of the psychedelic/acid rock scene which was preceded by the English electric blues bands and the American garage bands from 1963-66. By 1969 a good number of bands around the world were moving into a heavier direction, employing thundering fuzz-toned guitar, agile and powerful drummers, and at times featuring rumbling Hammond organs and rough-throated vocalists. Styles varied even at this early stage, and we find gritty, sweaty bands like Grand Funk Railroad and Sir Lord Baltimore, doom-laden heavy rock like Black Sabbath, Jerusalem, and Iron Claw, and bands split between progressive rock and proto-metal, like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Atomic Rooster.

Valhalla were a band from Long Island who recorded only one album before disbanding. Their music fits very snuggley in the same category as Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and Steppenwolf. A five-piece band, their music is based largely on the varied psychedelic flavours of the day and includes swirling and rumbling Hammond organ, heavy, distorted guitar, powerful vocals, and a strong rhythm section with a fluid bass-player and active drummer. In particular, the lead vocalist Mark Mangold reminds me of a cross between Vanilla Fudge's Mark Stein and Iron Butterfly's Doug Ingle, though in the bluesier moments I am reminded of Keith Relf of the Yardbirds.

The killer heavy rocker from this album is the opening track, "Hard Times" which sounds a lot like "Renaissance"-era Vanilla Fudge with heavy guitars and organ and powerful, rough vocals. This track shows up on proto-metal / heavy psychedelic rock mixes on YouTube.

"Conceit" begins more slowly and softly but gradually builds, becoming an terrific heavy psychedelic piece toward the end. The main melody of the verses is very catchy, "She has led a sheltered life from puppy love to be my wife", and the guitar solo near the end combines a wonderful mix of distortion and an effect which I can only describe as a sped-up wah-wah sound. I can see bands these days clambering to get that same sound.

"Ladies in Waiting" is the slowest track on the album, a pretty ballad with piano, an ode to women who don't marry and have children. The melody is delicate and the singing very nice, but the lyrics are likely to not be popular among modern women: "Mother of nothing, the fruits of your womb were in vain."

"I'm not Askin'" takes the heavy psychedelic style and gets a bit more proggish in parts. There's an extended solo section for electric guitar and then drums (but not a drum solo, thank goodness), and finally the organ. Marking the change from the song to the solo section and then again at the end of the guitar solo is a fuzz- toned bass break, not really a solo as in showing off playing technique but a solo in that it's only the bass guitar playing for a few seconds. This song must have been really loud when played live.

"Deacon" is a flower-power type easy song with trumpets that sounds like it could have been in some musical like "Hair". It reminds me a bit of Episode Six's "Lucky Sunday" or some early David Bowie stuff.

Side two begins with a short groovy rocker, "Heads are Free" which is a bit in the same vein as Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" but a distinctly different and original song (as far as I know).

"Roof Top Man" seems to be about a sniper. It begins with a slow jazzy intro but soon transforms into an Iron Butterfly-like number with lots of fuzz guitar, resembling some of the material on Iron Butterfly's "Ball" album of the same year.

Based on the lyrics, I will assume that "JBT" stands for something like "July Building Thunderstorm". It's a mellower song that poetically describes a building and approaching thunderstorm. It begins with clean guitar and a softer organ sound but near the end it changes a bit like early Deep Purple and then does another Iron Butterfly turn with the fuzzy guitar solo.

"Conversation" is similar to "Deacon" and sounds like another musical soundtrack number. Though "Deacon" was alright, I find this style to be a bit boring and thus this song strikes me as the least consequential track on the album.

The album closes with "Overseas Symphony" which is, as you can imagine, a bit of an epic number with the heavy psych band and orchestra combination. The music switches up and leaves you guessing, sometimes seeming to wrap up but then moving on to the next part. The track is only 6:24 (one second longer than "I'm not Askin'") but includes full-on orchestra and band, a guitar solo part that reminds me of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy", transitions with light flute, and emotive vocals. It's a combination of a musical finale and a heavy psych extravaganza.

I have found a lot of the songs have already sunk into my brain after only four or five listens and the variety of music here is quite good (naturally, I prefer the heavier tracks). The biggest drawback to this CD is that it seems like the album was reissued using the best available piece of vinyl they could find and not a remastering of the master tapes. Many of the tracks, particularly the ones with the orchestra, become scratchy in the louder parts, and the gentle beginning of "Overseas Symphony" has a repeated scratchy sound like an old vinyl record spinning round. I suppose it can't be helped, but it would be nice to hear some of this music a little cleaner.

It's not so easy to find on CD but anyone who loves Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly and Steppenwolf is recommended to check out Valhalla on YouTube.

FragileKings | 4/5 |

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