Album Review: Desolate Pathway – Valley of the King
Posted by ChristopherMammal
Genre: Epic English Doom Metal
Release date: 14 November 2014
Length: 39 minutes
Recommended to: Fans of Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus
Mammal’s rating: 4.2 out of 5
Desolate Pathway faithfully adds to the legacy of classic-style doom metal. That shouldn’t be too surprising since the band’s founder, Vince Hempstead, was the guitarist for one of those classic doom bands, Pagan Altar, formed in 1978 and still active.
I hadn’t heard Pagan Altar. After playing some of their music I know they didn’t just play good doom, they were very clever musicians. With Desolate Pathway, Hempstead still is a clever composer and guitarist. That can’t be said of every seasoned campaigner in any genre. The band is the fulfillment of a plan he started putting together after he went solo in 2009, and his enthusiasm for the project shines through.
What we might call classic doom started with Black Sabbath, who pretty much invented the genre along with the down-tuning of the guitars that became a hallmark of heavy metal. The mighty Candlemass steered doom into the modern era, where it has been burnished by bands like Solitude Aeturnus. Now we have Desolate Pathway, and they can stand proudly alongside the stalwart pioneers and the newer, younger propagators of no-nonsense, honest-to-pagan doom.
All the members of the band reckon they’re veterans. Jim Rumsey goes so far as to say he can’t remember how long he’s been a bass player. Looking at their journeyman’s logbooks, it’s clear that they’ve all paid their dues to metal and worked their way up through the ranks the hard way. They’ve filled in for members of bands on tour, done session work and kept on slogging away to find their own niche. I’d say “Valley of the King” has carved more than a niche for Desolate Pathway. I would hope it has hewed out a good roosting place among the dragons and winged demons.
More than a few reviewers have hailed Desolate Pathway as the worthy successors to Candlemass. That is lofty praise indeed. There shouldn’t be much argument that “Valley of the King” deserves praise. At less than 40 minutes it may be short for an album. However, there is plenty of blisteringly good music packed into the eight tracks.
The band calls its music epic English doom metal. The English part is easy to understand, and not merely because the band was formed in England. Desolate Pathway’s style of doom is a direct evolution of the doom & heavy style of metal pioneered in the English midlands. The epic part is literal. Every song tells a story. “Valley of the King” is a concept album that weaves the story-songs into one epic quest as a virtuous leader, Prince Palidor, leads a small army of knights into the grim valley to seek out the castle where their doom, whatever it may be, awaits them.
All of the musical contributions on the album are highly impressive. The compositions are refreshingly varied, not just from one track to the next but within each song. The vocals and the instrumental performances are outstanding.
Simon Stanton’s vocal style is similar to the style of Ozzy Osbourne with Sabbath, although Stanton’s voice is deeper. He delivers the same type of timbre and resonance. It’s a powerful voice that never sounds strained. If you were a designer of vocal cords, you could use Stanton’s larynx as a template for doom vocals.
The interplay between guitar and bass is alternately driving and lyrical. When Hempstead and Rumsey hold back to give prominence to the vocals, they generate some of the most satisfying riffs I’ve heard in quite a while. During the guitar solos, Hempstead’s excellence creates soaring melody lines while Rumsey plays in counterpoint across several bass octaves.
Mags, the drummer, is built like a fashion model. On this album, however, she becomes a giant. Her changes of tempo and beat reflect considerable savvy and sensitivity in interpreting what the rhythm section should provide.
Overall, the album is wonderfully musical and absorbing. The production is slick, smooth and clean, with top-class sound balance and gratifying peaks and ebbs. Great job, guys and Mags.
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