Sounds Like: Complex and hypnotic prog-tech with endless ambition
For Fans Of: Tesseract, Dead Letter Circus, Karnivool
Listen To: Paradox
If there’s one end of the metal spectrum that has little patience for chasing trends and playing it safe, it’s the prog and tech scenes, where cerebral tendencies are revered above all else. Bristolian progressive crew Valis Ablaze started life as a djent-fuelled proposition in 2012, when the scene was approaching saturation. However, quickly realising the key to longevity would be finding a sound of their own, the band underwent a line-up change and sonic overhaul. The result was an expansive sound that married Tesseract’s more ethereal sensibilities with the groove-prog of Monuments.
“We wanted to break down barriers and remove all the standard things that people expect,” explains Phil Owen, who joined the band on vocals in 2016. “We were like, ‘If we wanted to sound like any band, who would that be?’ A lot of them weren’t djent – they were bands like Dead Letter Circus, Tesseract and Disperse. Now our sound is melodic ambience mixed with riffs, so you get a contrast between dreamy sections and something hard-hitting. We have heavy riffs and a progressive metal sound, but there’s a lot more layering going on. It’s our own sound but with a lot of pieces we like from our major influences.”
Since completing their volte-face, the quintet have released their Insularity EP, signed to Long Branch Records and supported bands like Tesseract, Sikth and The Contortionist. Now, with debut album Boundless, it’s very clear how far they’ve come in a short space of time.
“Yeah, that’s what a lot of people in the industry are saying, too,” agrees Phil. “For us, it’s happened really quickly. Because Insularity was quite a drastic change in the sound, I think a lot of people were shocked by that and we got a lot of hype.”
Packed with simmering soundscapes and ephemeral rhythms and awash with strings, synths and pianos, Boundless is an ambitious concept album and an otherworldly mix of off-kilter riffs and radiant melodies. Featuring a vocal guest spot from the band’s producer, Drewsif Stalin, and guitar solos from Sithu Aye and Reece Fullwood from Mask Of Judas, who have added cosmic guitar work to an already scintillating mix, it represents a step up in every respect from the band’s EP and sounds altogether too accomplished to be the work of a band still at the beginning of their career.
“It’s based on the sleep cycle,” says Phil, explaining the concept of the album. “It’s a fascinating topic and there’s a lot of directions we could have taken that story. But lyrically, it’s about a protagonist who goes through the different stages of sleep and meets a guide in their dream who takes them through the past, present and future.
We can learn from dreams; it’s essentially our own imagination and sub-conscious trying to speak to us. I think, sometimes, symbols and visions in dreams can mean something to us in waking life. They can be really powerful things. We’ve built the whole album around that concept; we’ve got repeating patterns in the music, the songs run into each other and there’s a slow build that peaks with the heaviest track, Paradox. Right after that, you have the lightest track, Reflections, so there’s this huge contrast of being in a really deep sleep then waking up from an intense dream into reality.”
Despite their tech roots, these days Valis Ablaze are a little trickier to pigeon-hole. And although Phil welcomes this as a consequence of the band’s progression, he confirms they’ll always be a tech band at heart. “While we push boundaries and evolve the sound, we’ll always be involved in the scene in some way,” he says. “It’s where we started and so it will always hold a special place for us.
It’s great to be still part of it but it’s also nice to take a bit of a step out. After this, the sound might change again, but right now we’re where we want to be.”
Boundless is out now via Long Branch and is available to buy from Amazon.