Album Review: Burning Down Alaska – “Values & Virtues”

Burning Down Alaska
Values & Virtues
(Redfield Records)

When a debut EP feels like a complete album, you know you’re headed in the right direction. With their first extended play, Values & Virtues, finally made available to the public, the German quintet that makes up Burning Down Alaska have already laid down the groundwork for what could turn out to be a great music career.

Values & Virtues is one of the first EPs I have ever fully mistaken to be an album. It’s nine tracks uphold a large, well-planned out aesthetic that comes off as one giant opus rather than a string of songs put together just to get music out. Tracks like “Reality and Fiction” contrast intense metal guitar riffs with beautiful bass lines and drum bridges while fusing a duality between the vocals and lead guitar. When listening to the EP as a whole you are never quite sure which is the focal point: Tobias Rische’s voice or the flowing riffs paired with it.

There’s no djenty generic bullshit when it comes to this EP, a big feat for a band breaking into the scene. Instead Burning Down Alaska focus more on overall musicianship than breakdowns, thus getting almost a “if-Zeppelin-was-hardcore” vibe from bridges like the one used on “Savior,” one of the only two tracks to feature clean vocals. Other tracks like “Clockwork” and “Brighter Days” produce riffs that are actually catchier than the lyrics they emulate.

There’s nothing simple about this EP, and for all of its twists and turns, it never feels over done or jarring at all. “Phantoms” is filled to the brim with an elaborate formula that shouldn’t work, such as mixing thrash vocals with delayed cleans, roaring drum rolls over more melodic new wave riffs, and mini guitar highlights not quite focused enough to be solos, but somehow it all flows from one moment to the next without feeling like straight noise.

Whereas the instrumentals and structuring work beautifully for this record, the few major flaws that could’ve been tweaked stem from the vocal work. The lyrics say very little that hasn’t been said before (“Take it back to how it was before”) and still use conventional “Woah’s” for filler, something that has seriously been over done within the last year. The volume levels that went into the vocals are a little disappointing, too, as the listener is constantly straining to make out exactly what is being said among the high levels of the guitars and bass line.

Filled with intros and interludes, Burning Down Alaska treated Values & Virtues as a statement piece, an overall sound that meshes as one collective effort rather than an collection of songs. The listener can tell it was carefully planned out and intended to go together. It all feels very genuine and marks a great beginning for a band that could really go places. (Natasha Van Duser)

Purchase Values & Virtues here.

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