Valis Ablaze have been a consistent presence on the UK tech/prog underground circuit for a number of years, but numerous line-up changes and one fairly dramatic change of musical direction mean that they are now a very different proposition to when they first started striking out from their native Bristol in 2012. So far, so progressive.
The biggest single change came in the form of the recruitment of vocalist Phil Owen at the end of 2015, introducing a considerably more melodic approach, as well as ushering in a period of prolific creativity. The new-look Valis Ablaze released their first EP, Insularity, in 2017, which was then swiftly followed up by their debut full-length, Boundless, just over a year later. Render has now emerged just as quickly behind its predecessor, despite also replacing the rhythm section in the interim.
Valis Ablaze’s formula of chuggy riffs, djenty tones, atmospherics and melodic vocals have meant that, up to now, a comparison to TesseracT has never been far away. Those previous releases may have struggled to find their way out from under the shadow of the pioneers – especially as Boundless was released at almost exactly the same time as Sonder – but the speed at which they have continued to write has lead to a noticeably more mature approach to their songwriting. There has also been a growth in confidence that has allowed them to spread their wings further than ever before, bringing in a broader pallette of influence, developing an identity that is more distinctively their own.
Of course, as Render is an evolution rather than a revolution, the Tesseract influence is still clearly evident, but it is now more effectively blended with the taut and bouncy riffing of Circles, the anthemic choruses of Voyager or No Consequence and even a light dusting of lightly funky experimentation reminiscent of Disperse. It’s this last one that brings the greatest number of new elements into the mix, and they are most effectively brought together on “The Convincer”. The track also showcases particularly well the contributions of the new rhythm section, and particularly drummer Dayle whose imaginative rhythms definitely help to lift the band above their peers. Album opener “Neon Dreaming” and “Ascent” both pack huge, soaring choruses and some genuine heft in just the right places.
It would be fair to say that the experiments are not always completely successful. In particular, “Keystones” attempting to marry a slightly too fussy main riff with a too slow and dirgey chorus, feeling a bit confused as a result. But the occasional mis-step doesn’t discount the large strides forwards the band have made elsewhere, or the risks they have taken which have paid off.
Valis Ablaze have always been fond of a guest appearance on their recordings. Indeed Phil’s first appearance on a Valis song was a guest slot on a standalone single, released a couple of years before he joined the band as a full-time member. On Render, Mask of Judas guitarist Sam Bell adds some extra notes to “Ascent” and female vocalist White Dove adds a rich and soulful additional layer to Render‘s rousing closer, “Elevation”.
Render may not be a completely unqualified success, but it is without doubt the most engaging and enjoyable Valis Ablaze release to date. Each change that the band has made, either through choice or through circumstance, has ultimately made them stronger and more confident in themselves. The net result is that Render showcases a band increasingly comfortable in their own skin, and with a more clearly defined and distinctive identity of their own. Their magnum opus really can not be too far away now.
Render is released through Long Branch Records on 19th July.