I dare say there are very few people who have embraced the joys of classic heavy metal with as much fervour as the Spanish. They have a plethora of home-grown bands and a fan base that keeps established acts coming back (Iron Maiden have often said that their craziest fans are in Hispanic South America). Several acts have already crossed my desk (Evil Hunter and SnakesyeS are two that actually got reviewed…), but most of these acts sing in English, so I was pleasantly surprised to find Valkyria use their native tongue, trusting in the English-speaking listeners not to turn and run at the first sound of something unfamiliar. Saying that, the legacy of satirical club hit The Fox (What Does The Fox Say) shows that people don’t need words they understand in order to latch onto a song, not that the people who embraced that song are likely to be heavy metal fans but you see the point.
The opening thirty seconds or so offer a token gentle intro before all notions of a clean guitar sound are cast aside for most of the remaining fifty-minute run time. There is a touch of symphonic metal about opening track Código de Honor, with a subtle hint of brass and strings supporting the punchy notes of the main riff, all supported by a galloped double bass drum rhythm that always makes me want to listen to Edguy’s Defenders of the Crown. The rest of the album passes in much the same style, all melodic lead guitar lines with chugged guitar chords in support and straightforward double bass drum led rhythms. The stand out track is undoubtedly Abatido, which has a slightly more unconventional melodic chorus that sticks with you for all the right reasons. The downfall of the rest of the album, as is the case with many other albums in this vein, is the lack of variety. The only break in the mid-tempo power metal is the slower, acoustic led Selenelion. All nine tracks are well crafted but click play at any point in any of them and you would be hard pressed to differentiate between them. After three or four tracks the songs just don’t get the attention they deserve from the listener. This isn’t helped by vocalist Yeray Hernández. He doesn’t have the widest range or the most powerful voice, but he works well within the range he is comfortable. Maybe too comfortable because he rarely leaves that mid-range for any of the songs. The tenth track on the album is a thirty second prelude to final track Tuareg, entitled Dunas de Sal, featuring a droning sitar melody over a thundering drum backdrop. The impact this lends to the opening guitar salvo of Tuareg makes for an impressive finale to the album.
In Tierra Hostil, Valkyria have produced fifty minutes of melodic heavy/power metal goodness that will appeal to any who want another band to listen to in the vein of Judas Priest, recent Helloween and Edguy. The use of the Spanish lyrics will grab the attention of anyone after a slightly different finish to what is otherwise an unadulterated heavy metal formula. There is very little that will surprise the listener, and the lack of variety across the ten tracks lets the album down as a whole, but some of the individual tracks could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other heavy metal greats. Tierra Hostil literally translates to ‘Hostile Land’, but it is far from that. It will be as comfortable to a heavy metal fan as an old leather jacket.
I seem to be using the ‘lack of variety’ excuse to justify middling review scores ever more frequently, but I stand by it. A band’s ability to write songs with a variety of rhythm, tone, texture, intensity etc while still retaining a core sound that is unquestionably that band is what takes albums from fleeting pleasure to great pieces of work that will stand the test of time. Are albums that don’t do this, such as Tierra Hostil, any less enjoyable? Of course not. But after the initial impact has worn off will you still cite them as great albums in a couple of years’ time? I doubt it.
Highlights: Código de Honor, Abatido and Tuareg
Valkyria can be found on Facebook.