Six albums into VALIENT THORR's career and most of us who have kept tabs on the Raleigh-by-way-of-Venus heavy rockers pretty much know just what to expect from the shaggy band?or do we?
Fact is, there's always been an air of unpredictability about VT that's helped separate them from all of the other retro-looking heavy rock acts (indication, perhaps, that there may be more than fun-filled science fiction behind those alien origin stories?), and 2013's "Our Own Masters" (featuring the most heinous, god-awful album cover of the year so far) is no exception.
The album's official blast-off, "Immaculate Consumption", for example, explodes towards the heavens with the urgency and lightning staccatos of '80s thrash? if it were performed by VAN HALEN; the song's evident sense of humor contrasting nicely with VALIENT THORR's amusingly paranoid conspiracy theories of yesteryear.
Said theories continue to populate both the fabulously frantic "Master Collider" and clumsily uninspired "Manipulation" with familiar strains of interplanetary intrigue; but can also make way for more plainly spoken songs like "Insatiable", which unfortunately combines the good, the bad and the ugly into a beard-scratching hybrid - part predictable hard rock, part Joe Satriani-like guitar exotica - that's sure to leave longtime VT followers a little perplexed.
Of greater concern, however, is the closing catastrophe named "Call off the Dogs", which sees VALIENT THORR either worshipping or mocking QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE (it's really hard to tell) amid brief flashes of sanity, before sending listeners home with a strange taste in their mouths.
Luckily, scattered highlights such as the 30-second freak out, "Life Hands You Demons", the musically adventurous and lyrically clever "Cerberus", plus more familiarly frenzied numbers such as "Crowdpleaser" and "Nervous Energy" help right the VT ship's upward trajectory just long enough to avoid a Challenger-esque blowout, just seconds from lift-off.
Still, there is definitely something queer going on throughout much of "Our Own Masters" - and none of it is queerer than the ultra-compressed, emotionally stunted, '80s-style production aesthetic chosen by VALIENT THORR and Kyle Spence (of noise/rock scientists HARVEY MILK) to harass all of the above, and the songs named "No Strings Attached" and "Torn Apart", in particular.
This, coming from a band whose previous albums exuded both the wild, proto-punk abandon of the MC5, is frankly a little confusing.
But then, so is VALIENT THORR, and while it would seem that the group's willful schizophrenia got the best of them when creating "Our Own Masters" (and first time listeners may do well to try other albums before venturing here) there's just as good a chance that dedicated fans will find even more to love about these frequently perplexing and unpredictable new songs.
Heck, like SPINAL TAP, perhaps the band's audience is simply becoming "more selective."