Though it seems counter-intuitive, the more familiar and generic a piece of art gets, the more difficult it becomes to analyze and decipher. Musical genres, like the works that inhabit them, each possess a set of strengths and weaknesses that often come with the territory. Take a genre like melodic death metal; it covers bands as stylistically dissimilar as At the Gates and Arghoslent, it describes a vast range of approaches and potential moods, and yet whenever the genre is mentioned, we’re likely bound to have a very specific idea of what to expect. Enter Valtari, an Australian one-man project that sees fit to fulfill the most basic expectations of melodic death metal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go much further than that. Hunter’s Pride is functionally written and performed, but lacks the fire and identity needed to create a lasting impression.
I am given the overwhelming sense that Valtari’s multi-instrumental mastermind Marty Warren devised the project with a prescribed genre and influences in mind already. I’m sure a legitimate debate could be fostered over the question whether it’s preferable to outline a project’s stylistic expectations prior to working or to simply let it out naturally, but I highly doubt an album could cling to melodeath tropes so closely without some measure of contrivance. It’s a needless assumption to try to guess the specific intent of Valtari’s style; rest assured, however, Hunter’s Pride should come as readily familiar territory to anyone who has ever delved some of the classic Swedish melodeath. Think In Flames or Dark Tranquility, stripped of their stylistic departures and reduced to a core essence. In the case of imitation, a band had best do what they can to outdo (or at least match) those who influenced them. This much cannot be said for Valtari.
I hesitate to call any aspect of Hunter’s Pride to be poor outright, but there seems to have been very little ambition for Valtari to crawl out from under the shade of its influences. The verse-chorus styled songs were almost certainly built around their melodic leads. While the promising title track offers some twisting chord progressions in the style of Dissection, the rhythm guitars tend to plod innocuously behind the pretty leads. Melodic death metal has a tendency potentially above any other brand of ‘extreme’ metal to adhere to popular songwriting conventions, and Valtari unsurprisingly offer no exception to this rule. Although some of Warren’s lead ideas are definitely compelling (barring the title track, “Enshrined in Ice” comes first to mind), the predictable songwriting and snoozy pace wears thin quickly.
Whereas I tend to associate melodic death metal with generally polished recording standards, Hunter’s Pride sounds dryly produced. It does not boast the finesse of a professional recording, nor does it enjoy the organic richness of lo-fi or analog fare. Valtari has been mixed and recorded well enough to excuse its execution of any fervent criticisms, but the dull, muddied manner in which these songs are presented have no doubt curtailed the album’s visceral impact. As tends to be the case with solo metal projects, the degrees of success in its execution vary widely. While production and mixing are marginally functional, Warren demonstrates skill and tact with the guitar, particularly with his melodic leads. His growled vocals are decent as well, although the quasi-melodic rasp during some of the mandatory choruses sounds forced. Though it shouldn’t come as any surprise given Warren’s past history as the drummer of Kania, Valtari’s greatest boon is its mastermind’s skill with percussion. Whereas much of this execution seems to plod dully along, Warren consistently arrests attention with his refreshingly intense drumwork. The performance standards of solo acts are usually weighted upon one instrument. In most cases it is the guitar; the drums are often feeling dry. For what it’s worth, it’s impressive to hear a one-man act that inverts the trend.
There are good (if not great) ingredients on Hunter’s Pride, but Valtari often suffers the punishing shortfalls that usually come with being a one-man act. Marty Warren is an excellent drummer with an ear for melody, but it’s not enough to make the music come together. As with all things, some greater measure of balance is needed. Far moreso than that, Valtari’s complacency to cover well-treaded ground makes the band’s weaknesses that much less tolerable. Lovers of the genre should take less offence to Valtari’s derivative sound, but from where I’m standing, there’s much better melodic death metal out there.
03) Can you Hear me?
04) Shatter the Myth
05) In Slides
06) With a Child’s Smile
07) Enshrined in Ice
09) The Gift
10) Hunter’s Pride