Hearing some bands for the first time can be a challenging, demanding listening experience as you try to understand their sound and figure out if you like it or not. And then there are bands where after just a few seconds of music you can stop worrying, sit back and say “yeah, I can roll with this.” Valis Ablaze are definitely the latter. I knew I was going to like Insularity from more or less its opening moments as this style of melodic, punchy modern prog metal pretty much ticks all my boxes. But like any good progressive music, Valis Ablaze’s songs keep on giving, revealing more and more great ideas with each listen.
RELEASE DATE: 30 January 2017 LABEL: Self-released
With Insularity this UK based five-piece deliver six tracks of groovy, melodic and super-slick metal that sits nicely alongside contemporaries like VOLA and Voyager. The sound on display here is far less harsh and heavy than their previous work but this lighter, more melodic take on djent-inspired sounds and the band’s proficiency at pairing muscular riffs with soaring vocal lines gives them an undeniably appealing sound.
Valis Ablaze definitely like their complex rhythms, busy riffs and proggy song structures but their music remains very direct. The gorgeous chorus of opener “Resolution” and the no-nonsense riff that kicks off “Inertia” aim straight for your knee-jerk pleasure reaction and hit their mark dead-on. Insularity also boats plenty of atmosphere thanks to the intricate, many-layered guitar work and sparkling production: “Lost In the Syntax” is a real highlight that builds up to an almighty finale with three of four distinct guitar parts swirling around Phil Owen’s passionate, desperate sounding vocals.
Each song on Insularity is a head-on rush through powerful riffs, epic vocal harmonies and brief atmospheric interludes that quickly boil over into even bigger riffs and choruses. And yet in all the tumult Valis Ablaze know how to hold a few tricks back to make certain sections really explode. They use harsh vocals sparingly but brilliantly, often adding an extra layer behind the cleans to really emphasise the odd line here and there, and when it’s time to pull out the really big riffs- like the absolute train-wreck of a bridge on “Persuasion”- the results are awe-inspiring.
When Valis Ablaze keep things subdued for longer, the results aren’t quite as strong. Closing track “Legacy” starts beautifully with mellow guitar and vocals, but an annoyingly clicky, guttural bassline that joins in halfway through rather kills the mood. And while the song definitely builds to a rousing climax the very final moments feel rather perfunctory, like a riff just for the sake of adding another riff, ending the otherwise solid EP on a slightly underwhelming note.
Despite this there’s very little to dislike about Insularity- this is prog that’s tuneful, groovy, technical without being showy and polished to a high shine. Valis Ablaze definitely seem to have found a sound that works for them and I bet they’re capable of even greater things than this, so any fans of catchy modern prog should definitely keep this band on their radar.