Whether interpreted as a work of pretension or brilliance, Valis is an inarguably dense offering from San Franciscan one-man black metal project Mastery. An eighteen-minute opening track, song titles cryptic in both grammar and lexicon and the composer pseudonym of “Ephemeral Domignostika” all act as precursors to Valis’ improvisational black metal blitzkrieg. All of this is should indicate fairly explicitly that Mastery has more interest in bastardizing its genre’s “Waves” rather than glorifying them. Traditionalists need not apply, but for listeners interested in an act that surpasses Deathspell Omega in their chaos, Valis is certainly a worthwhile endeavor to dissect.
“V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L.,” the title of the aforementioned opening track, is antithetical to accessibility. A brief burst of glitches quickly dissolves into a cacophony of math and noise influenced black metal riffs and epileptic percussion that festers and boils for six straight minutes. After a minute long acoustic interlude backed by a consistent blast beat and consumed by ED’s vicious snarls, the discord resumes for the song’s remaining ten minutes. As the track ceases and the listener’s exhaustion momentarily halts, it is clear that Valis’ initial advertisement as a “Form of free jazz black metal – twisted and complex, with upwards of 100 riffs per song” has been verified. If Ornette Coleman was a Scandinavian teen in the nineties that penned a third studio album named The Shape of Black Metal to Come, it would closely resemble what ED accomplishes here.
Beyond just his compositional and musical prowess, ED also presents a keen ability at album construction. The two other movements on Valis, while equally menacing, exhibit increased variation and diminished length that help to maintain the album’s theme without losing the listener entirely. At just eight minutes, “L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R.” feels as though it could be a longer track on a more accessible album, and album closer “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” contains a passage that harkens back to the days of indiscriminancy between black and thrash metal. Additionally, two short interludes (“A.S.H.V.E.S.S.E.L.” and “I.L.K.S.E.E.K.E.R.”) provide imperative respite between Valis’ three monoliths while still preserving the perturbing mood with eerie sound loops.
If there is any critique to levy against Valis, it is its relative brevity; forty minutes is a fairly limited runtime for what is being presented here. It seems probable from Valis that ED is fully capable of releasing a more grotesquely grandiose release under the Mastery name, perhaps akin to a black metal Bitches Brew. But for now, Valis is a more than apt primer for what Mastery’s discography will unveil in the future. It may be premature to deem Valis the pinnacle of this year’s black metal releases; in all honesty, referring to this as just black metal seems misleading. So for now, perhaps it is best to simply state that Mastery have taken their moniker seriously with a jarring, avant-garde masterpiece.
Mastery’s Valis gets…