Almost two years after the release of their demo tape, Oakland black metal quintet Vale has returned with a cynically apocalyptic debut album of tremolo-picked melodies, searing vocals, and moments of heavy, blackened-crust-like suspension.
The performances throughout Burden of Sight are solid. The drums transition perfectly from blasts to rolling double bass and tom bridges to decidedly simple sludge and punk beats. Like the guitar work, the instrumentation touches on many subgenres of metal and punk, including, first and foremost, black and death metal, as well as doom, crust, and grind.
Vale’s ability to pull from multiple genres while remaining cohesive and coherent is one of the most satisfying aspects of this album. It is further elevated by the almost habitual interludes it seems like each song is accompanied by.
This ability to touch on different genres of extreme music is probably due to the band members’ active participation in the Oakland music scene. Vale shares members with Abstracter, Ulthar, Void Omnia, and others. Since they’re active playing metal shows, the band is tightly rehearsed live. These songs would be particularly good in-person.
While there are many good things about Burden of Sight, there are a few underwhelming moments. Sometimes it feels like a transition was an obvious choice, and other times they return to a riff where there could have been variation, but these imperfections are few. Instead, the band chooses to tear apart any notion of pretension with their hard-hitting classic-yet-curiously-new style.
By rebuking any idea of holding back, Vale has the listener encounter relentless guitar riffs and pulsating drums. Vocals are wretched but not shrill, creating the perfect high dimension to the mix. The bass, however, is nowhere to be found. It seems to exist only to bulk up the band’s sound. Particularly thrilling is the edition of subtle electronics that facilitate and establish the mood—the aura—of hopeless perdition.
Thematically, the record imagines a desolate landscape fraught with peril and suffering. The album’s title suggests that the ability to see into the future is nothing more than a burden, especially considering its outlook is not just negative—it is downright apocalyptic. Across six tracks called “Final Flesh,” “Guilt among the Dead,” and “Starvation Eternal,” among others, the band rips through moment after moment of darkly saturated sounds coupled with grim imagery.
These tracks don’t pull any punches, and though they embody the urgent message and anger the band seeks to portray, the record could have used more patience. Overall, the only way it could really be improved would be for it to be a bit more thoughtful. But that doesn’t seem to be what Vale wants to give the listener. It is all vitriol, all disdain and misanthropy, in the spirit of black metal that manages to be uniquely their own.
With such a resolute message and uncompromising sound, the record begs the question of how Vale will evolve and what their next record will be like. A debut full-length this good may lead to increasingly creative and thoughtful song structures and a continued vision of the violent, inequitable world we are headed towards.