By Bradley Barnes
Artist: Eagle Claw
Words aren’t always necessary in order to convey emotion or to tell a story. Classical music did just fine without vocals, and some of the most revered artists in jazz never had vocalists in their bands. The music itself can create a mood and atmosphere. Even in the heavy metal genre, there have been a number of bands over the course of the last couple of decades that have decided to buck tradition, and create sonic landscapes devoid of vocals. Austin’s mighty Eagle Claw are one such band, and have released a new journey in the sonic battlefield in the form of this year’s Vallis.
Eagle Claw have a wide variety of influences mixed into their sound, making categorizing them no easy task. While there are inevitably going to be comparisons to The Sword (whose bassist Bryan Richie even recorded Poacher, Eagle Claw’s first record), that’s really only one aspect of the band’s overall sound.
“Redness” starts things off with a melancholy, mostly-clean guitar tone with light synthesizers building up the atmosphere in the background – before giving away to the band’s trademark crunch. It doesn’t take long for arpeggiating riffs, odd time signatures and melodic lead guitar licks to kick in, pushing the music in a more progressive direction. It’s easy to simply place Eagle Claw in the stoner metal genre, but that’s not going to tell the whole story. “Olympus,” for instance, has a sludgy, doom metal vibe in its opening riff, while “Her Desher” sounds like classic speed metal from the ‘80s.
The word epic may very well be the most appropriate to describe the mood each and every track on Vallis elicits; as mentioned before, there are no vocals necessary, these tracks make you want to pick up an axe and dash headfirst into an ancient battlefield. “Phobos” is a particular standout track, with a sound that is reminiscent of equal parts Russian Circles, and Iron Maiden. The tastefully done overdubs give you plenty of meaty riffs to latch on to, while not sounding bloated or overproduced, with the twin guitar attack really given a lot of room to shine, while the bass and drums provide a hard-driving backbone.
Repetitiveness is an easy pitfall for any band to fall into, and avoiding that is made even more difficult to avoid when said band is instrumental. Thankfully, Eagle Claw manage to sidestep that danger and make a thoroughly compelling listening experience from start to finish, with the heavy riffs repeated just enough to really get stuck in your head.
Not a single line overstays its welcome, with a great example being found on “Deimos,” which takes an already heavy riff, and adds a little something to it each time it repeats, changing the pace as it goes along. This particular track captures the mood of Vallis in a nutshell, and is a great track to check out in order to give you an idea of what you’re in for should you ever get the opportunity to see Eagle Claw.
Vallis is a mature record from a band that has carved quite a niche for themselves in the metal scene, both on a local and international level. If you like tasty riffs, but wish that pesky vocalist would shut up for a second so you can enjoy them, Eagle Claw has you covered. I would recommend this for fans of Russian Circles, The Sword, and the twin-guitar attack of Iron Maiden.