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Local ‘Folk Metal’ Shredders, Valensorow, Play O’Malley’s Sports Pub In Mountain View

In Music
Great Odin’s Raven: Pairing accordion, flute and mandolin with brutal shredding and double bass, Valensorow’s ‘folk metal’ songs sound like an invading viking army.

Great Odin’s Raven: Pairing accordion, flute and mandolin with brutal shredding and double bass, Valensorow’s ‘folk metal’ songs sound like an invading viking army.

According to Valensorow’s lead vocalist, Joseph Scanlan, his band’s last full-length album—the sprawling and ambitious Neptus—took longer to complete than anticipated.

Surely the album was held back by the complex arrangements, and the difficulty that comes along with nailing highly technical drum fills and lightning-fast guitar runs. But there was another reason the record was held up: role-playing video games, such as Zelda and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

“We’re all a bunch of RPG nerds,” says Noah McLean, Valensorow’s bassist.

It makes perfect sense, considering the San Jose band bills itself as “the musical story of an ancient clan of warriors, their battles on Earth, and their quest for immortality in the afterlife.” In fact, it could be argued that the Valensorow wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the very games that sometimes interfere with rehearsal and the recording process.

The band is influenced by the aesthetics of fantasy, as well as Nordic and Scandinavian folklore: swords, dragons, magic spells, enchanted forests and the perpetual struggle between good and evil. On stage they often smear their faces and bodies with war paint, in an attempt to resemble a band of marauding Vikings—and their songs follow suit.

“New Jericho,” the fourth track from Valensorow’s 2013 release, Neptus, features synth horns trumpeting a rousing chord progression over brutal double-bass-drum blasts and palm-muted guitars. It’s a call to war—conjuring an image of mounted crusaders sacking a medieval city.

“Dirge of the Dying,” a far more melodic track, immediately follows. “We are men of the sword and the hammer,” the band members sing in unison, recalling “Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold,” the song sung by Thorin Oakenshield and company at the start of The Hobbit. “We’re warriors from battles beyond/and now I lay on the forest floor as my soul flies on to the morn.”

Sure, it’s nerdy, Scanlan and McLean say, but it’s also unpretentious.

“Metal has claimed to be an all-inclusive genre,” McLean says. “But over the years I’ve seen the scene divide itself so much. It’s a shame.”

You won’t get any of that at a Valensorow show, McLean insists, explaining that he and the rest of the band take their music seriously, but above all else, they are in it to have fun.

“We don’t have to say we’re ‘thrash metal’ or ‘death metal,’ he says. “It’s really refreshing when you see someone just having fun and not caring who is there.”

Scanlan agrees, adding that writing lyrics for a “folk metal” group allows him “complete creative freedom” to tell wild stories. “As the vocalist, the songwriting aspect of it, leaves nothing off the table,” he says. “It gives it a very unique sound and it’s a blast to play.”

And it’s a blast to listen to and participate in, if Valensorow’s fans are any indication. According to McLean, fans now show up to concerts decked out in face paint and fake blood, ready and willing to be enveloped by the story.

Valensorow recently finished recording their follow-up to Neptus. They plan to release The Battle of Oak Mountain this summer. They will play songs from the new record Feb. 28 at O’Malley’s in Mountain View. The Pin Up Production show also features San Jose acts Rivals, Covet and Sea in the Sky, along with Walnut Creek’s rock & roll-meets-hardcore riot She’s an Animal.

Valensorow recorded Oak Mountain in the same studio as Neptus—dB Sound Studios in Morgan Hill. However, unlike on the previous record, Valensorow focused on using live instruments wherever possible. The LP features accordion, saxophone, flute, penny whistle, mandolin, djembe and cello, to name a few.

Many of those instruments are played by the band’s chief songwriter and leader, Conner Bruce—who started the band as a side project back in 2011. “He plays like 12 instruments,” McLean says.

Oak Mountain also brings in more genres and sounds into the mix—even elements of Western, McLean says.

“It’s a big melting pot of things we nerded out on,” Scanlan says of the new album. “It’s really fun and really awesome to be able to incorporate those things and not have to worry about ‘Oh these guys aren’t real thrash, these guys aren’t real speed metal.’”

As on the first record, the second LP will tell a story. According to Scanlan, it tells the tale of two supernatural warriors—a “forest warrior” and a “being from the darkness” who are fighting for immortality.

Metal, bro. Fucking metal.

Valensorow play O’Malley’s Sports Pub in Mountain View with Covet, She’s an Animal, and Rivals on Feb. 28 at 8pm. More info.

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