Innovative five-piece breathe new life into the djent genre.
Just when you thought that the whole djent phenomenon was running out of steam, along comes a handful of new bands breathing virulent life into the genre. Chief among tech metal’s new breed are Bristol/Manchester/ Belfast quintet Valis Ablaze, whose powerfully melodic and uplifting take on the djent blueprint sets them firmly apart from the generic, growling herd. You might even say the band have pop sensibilities, particularly in light of their cover of Rag’n’Bone Man’s now ubiquitous Human.
“Every two years we do an April Fool’s joke,” explains guitarist Ash Cook.“Last year we created a tour poster which was advertising an acoustic Meshuggah show with Karnivool, Vola, Skyharbor and us opening, at the SSE [Wembley] Arena on 19 February 2018. If you clicked on the ticket link, it took you to our cover of Human. I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of the song, but the message behind it was something we could get behind. We turned our version around in about five days and it did okay, we got some radio play. But we didn’t push it massively because he’s on a rather large label and probably has lawyers!”
One-off endeavours aside, Valis Ablaze are a focused unit with a sound that manages to be subtly distinctive and endearingly familiar. First full-length album Boundless builds on the gleaming future metal of 2017’s debut EP Insularity, weaving shimmering tech metal textures around an overtly prog-friendly conceptual core, as vocalist Phil Owen’s emotive tenor explores the intricacies of the unconscious mind.
“Effectively, Boundless is a concept album about the sleep cycle and what happens to your mind while you’re asleep,” says Cook. “That journey was the basis for how the songs flow and morph into each other. There are recurring melodies and vocal lines. Certain songs share quite a few vocal passages, both melodies and lyrics. It all reflects the concept. But we did consider that it’s a bit dangerous writing a concept album about sleep, because people could argue that it’s so boring it made them nod off! Fortunately, we haven’t faced that one so far.”
One accusation that Valis Ablaze have indubitably received on numerous occasions already is that they are merely the next bunch of TesseracT clones clawing at the coattails of a receding scene. In truth, Cook and his comrades have a singular identity, the tropes and trimmings of djent providing them with a sonic bedrock, rather than informing the whole shebang. As a result, they sound more like heirs to their forebears’ throne than plucky also-rans.
“I do appreciate that because we do get those comparisons, because of ‘Milton Cleans’ and djenty guitar tones and the clean vocals,” the guitarist shrugs. “I won’t pretend
I’m not a fan of TesseracT myself, but they’re just one of many influences. It’s not a box to tick, like, ‘We must have their guitar tone!’ Whatever you listen to creeps in, but I’m also into synthwave at the moment and I think those textures bring something to the sound too. Ultimately, writing the album was all about challenging ourselves and each other.”
With their meticulously conceived debut album receiving frothing plaudits, Valis Ablaze have high hopes for the future. Dedicated to straddling the divide between finessed, melodic artistry and thunderous, jaw-shattering heaviness, their next move is to see exactly how many people they can lure into this ultra-modern musical dreamworld.
“One of our favourite things is when you go to a show and you can bang your head and sing along at the same time,” Cook grins. “We like to think that half of our set is rocking out, the other half is about smiling and singing, and that’s something that’s always in the back of our minds. We’re not trying to write hits for the radio, but it’s always good to see people moving around, isn’t it?” DL
“WRITING THE ALBUM WAS ALL ABOUT CHALLENGING OURSELVES AND EACH OTHER.”
VALIS ABLAZE: BUILDINGTHEIR OWN NICHE.