I’m not sure how many Josh Graham-related albums I have in my vast collection, but it’s safe to say I have a whole lot of them.
From Neurosis (he’s the band’s visual director) to old Red Sparowes albums to the lone Battle of Mice full-length and their EP split with Jesu, Graham has claimed a good bit of my money over the years (not to mention albums I got as promos that didn’t cost me a thing). But apart from all those, my favorite pieces of my Graham collection come from his post-doom, apocalyptic project A Storm of Light, a band that originally recorded for Neurot Recordings (we discussed them yesterday in our Across Tundras review) before moving to Profound Lore for their third and latest album “As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade.” They kind of have a thing for album titles that take as long as to say as some punk band’s albums take to hear.
Anyone who discovered the band – they’re rounded out by bassist Domenic Seita, drummer Billy Graves, and Joel Hamilton on synth/production — with any of their first two records is going to be in for a bit of a surprise on “As the Valley…” It’s different, both sonically and philosophically. A Storm of Light always played pretty faithfully to that Neurosis/ISIS formula of long, drawn-out compositions that required your attention, patience and concentration, mixing in elements of post-rock, post-metal, shoegaze, doom, what have you. That’s still kind of there, at least the sound is there, but the songs are structured far differently this time around. Instead of expansive soundscapes that slowly unfurl, they concentrate more on traditional songwriting this time around. The tracks are shorter (though they still last longer than most other bands’ material), they try new things, and they sound way more accessible than ever before. Not sure everyone’s going to like that idea, as people tend to want bands to remain the same and never sway from what earned them affection in the first place, but by no means have they compromised themselves. A Storm of Light still sound like A Storm of Light, but they’re leaner now.
But yeah, the songs remain massive in volume and strength, and maybe someone who felt a little lost listening to 2008’s “And We Wept the Black Ocean Within” or 2009’s “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” will feel a little more at home with these songs. They blast out of the gates with “Missing,” an expansive, fiery song that has some meaty thrashing that Metallica used to be known for cranking out. On “Collapse,” Graham, who prefers clean singing tones to growling, warns, “Give up those dreams of fire” as he and his band launch into the song’s final moments of tumult. “Death’s Head” is spacey and has a heavy synth overdrive that blends its way into the thick doom fog, while closer “Wasteland” is the most haunting of the collection, as noise rises and falls, organs moan mournfully, and a thick psychedelic wash defines its personality.
There are some real eye-openers as well. “Wretched Valley” is a straight-up rock song, with a tasty guitar groove that sounds like it was put together by Josh Homme, and “Leave No Wounds” is one of the shortest, most straight-forward songs of their entire catalog, with an indie rock-style guitar riff, pushy, catchy drumming, and an attitude they don’t often display. It’s a cool track that could easily get rock radio play without anyone batting an eye. Well, except from the corporate playlist makers.
As with any ASOL record, there’s a wealth of special guests, and they blend right into the creation, make their contributions and never outshine the rest of the band. Um, speaking of outshine, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil contributes to “Missing” and Black Wolves,” where his signature sound is recognizable but complements its surroundings. Longtime collaborator Nerissa Campbell lends her pipes to those songs as well, and she’s an integral part to the melody and story of “Black Wolves.” Jarboe contributes to “Death’s Head”; Carla Kihlstedt of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum lends her talents to “Destroyer”; while Kris Force (Amber Asylum, among others), Campbell and Sleepytime’s Matthias Bossi power “Wasteland.”
“As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade” could be the album that breaks out this band to a larger audience. While their past work has been excellent, the moves they make here are sensible. How many more bands can do the Neurosis/ISIS thing exclusively and remain interesting over the long run? Even ISIS couldn’t do that. As mentioned, this band still is recognizable sonically, and they didn’t abandon what brought them this far. But refined songwriting and more attention toward making digestible material for more people didn’t strip this band of its allure. If anything it amplified how good A Storm of Light are as a unit and how capable they are. It would be a crime to keep this band contained inside a box, and I’m glad they realized that too.
For more on A Storm of Light, go here: http://www.astormoflight.com/
To buy “As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade,” go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=viewcategory&id=2&Itemid=99999999
For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com