Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Atkins May Project - Valley Of Shadows
Musical Style: Heavy Metal Produced By: Paul May
Record Label: Gonzo Multimedia Country Of Origin: UK
Year Released: 2012 Artist Website: Atkins May Project
Tracks: 10 Rating: 90%
Running Time: 53:22

Atkins May Project - Valley Of Shadows

There is no denying that Valley Of Shadows, the fall of 2012 sophomore release from Atkins May Project, is an essential album for fans of traditional heavy metal.  It reinforces a full on guitar sound, with rhythm guitars brash and heavy set and soloing ranging from the robust to the melodic.  Its low-end brings every bit as much brawn and strapping presence, while vocals are of the commanding and projection filled variety.  And every bit important the albums songwriting highlights the needed consistency that would have you returning time and again.  In other words, Valley Of Shadows delivers more than adequate “melody and metal mayhem” (as taken from the groups press material) to appeal to those into Judas Priest and Saint and all things in between.

Atkins May Project represents a partnership between original Judas Priest vocalist Al Atkins and Christian guitarist and music artist Paul May.  Atkins, having fronted Judas Priest from its inception in 1969 until his 1973 departure from the group, and May, performing on over 50 albums to date in both the mainstream and Christian arenas, uphold the Atkins May Project calling card that good and evil can work together.  This joining of extreme opposites got its start in 2011 with the duos critically acclaimed (85% Angelic Warlord review) full length debut, Serpent’s Kiss.

Valley Of Shadows builds upon the momentum gained from Serpents Kiss by taking things to the next level on all fronts.  It starts with songwriting, which does not let up start to finish in showcasing great song after great song.

Opener “Welcome To The Nightmare” sets the tone with its muscular mid-paced leanings, while “Not Ready To Die Today” also hits hard as a result of its bottom heavy focus.  “Ordinary Man” and “Stronger Is The Grace” approach things from the more upbeat standpoint, with the former delivering hooks to spare and latter a near speed metal milieu.  Melody makes its presence felt as well, as can be found on the accessible sounds to “Enslaved To Love” and “Harder The Fall” in addition to the albums two mood filled and acoustic laced epics, “Bitter Waters” and “Valley Of Shadows”.

Vocally, Al Atkins proves he has not lost anything over the years- he sounds remarkably fresh for someone in his mid-sixties.  Specifically, he brings a gruff, raspy and gutsy style based upon a lower-register foundation.  No, not an abundance of range, but his robust delivery easily identifies with the music at hand.  I applaud one reviewer who described Atkins as follows: “(not) a singer possessing bags of finesses, or a voice liable to croon you to sleep, but that's a good thing”.

Paul May again steals the show guitar wise.  Similar to the debut, his playing continues to walk a fine line between the melodic the blazing and the bluesy.  “Welcome To The Nightmare”, in which he delves into some lush soloing, instrumental “Messiah (Prelude)”, as a result of its stunning harmonies, and the two epics, with their acoustic basis, find him lending a smoother touch.  A more assertive edge to his playing can be found on “Slave To Love” and “No Ordinary Man” - lead guitar on both is as blistering as it gets - while he displays a bluesy side on “Bitter Waters”.  It adds up to a potential guitar hero of the year award.

Production delivers the goods with the needed emphasis on guitars while also allowing the low-end to stand out.  Packaging also shines with another fantastic cover from Rodney Matthews, this time a portrayal of Gandalf confronting the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

With lyrics composed by May, the album reflects a Christian worldview overall.  No, I would hesitate to label Valley Of Shadows a Christian project but rather one composed by a Christian instead.  “Stronger Is The Grace” and “Valley Of Shadows” are examples of the albums most upfront lyrics.

While Serpents Kiss is a fine album in its own right, Valley Of Shadows, again, takes things to the next level.  Songwriting particularly stands out while both Atkins and May return with strong performances.  Fans of traditional and classic metal - not to mention those into all forms of straightforward hard rock - will do themselves a favor by checking out Valley Of Shadows.

Track By Track

“Welcome To The Nightmare” slowly fades in before turning into a full bore rocker, with driving riffs aplenty, majestic guitar harmonies and full on muscle laden milieu leading the way.  Chorus, fittingly, is bristling and raw as it gets.  The only time the angst lets up is for the wonderfully melodic soloing.

“No Ordinary Man” picks up the tempo in taking the more forthright heading.  Churning front to back to a brawny bass line, this one stands out with its briskly done chorus and razor edged guitar mentality that has predominate written all over it.  Lead guitar takes on the heavier set tone this time around.  Lyric snippet:

I know that you know
I’m a fallen man
And I know my colors show
Just take me as I am
Cause here inside
I’m calling once again
I am not an ordinary man

Broken but chosen
I am still amazed
Lately maybe
I am still the same
Cause deep inside
I’m crawling once again
I am not an ordinary man

“Bitter Waters”, the first of the two lengthier pieces, gives rise to an epic feel with its acoustic based leanings interspersed with periodic (and very catchy) rhythm guitar.  Blues is at the foundation as well - pay close attention to the poignantly done soloing throughout - while melody is of the all encompassing variety.  It does not get much better than this.

Not exactly short at just under six minutes itself, “Enslaved To Love” represents a return to a mid-paced setting not unlike “Welcome To My Nightmare”.  While the album opener brought muscle to spare, the focus here is on a standout melody that might immediately draw you in and refuse to let go.  A compelling low end groove plays a defining role as well, as does the extended instrumental interlude with more scorching lead guitar.  Lyric snippet:

Run from the darkness
Where darkness crawls
The flesh is weak now
Break this mould
I can’t conceal
This seedy deal of lust

Who should I trust?
Release me now
Lord show me how
I’m hanging tough
Cause I’m enslaved to love

Borderline speed metal might be the best way to describe “Stronger Is The Grace”.  This one kicks up a storm of fury, slugging and mauling its way to unrelenting impetus and riffs of a dominant capacity.  But it is not all brawn in that chorus comes across quite sweeping in the process.  Some of the albums most inspired lyrics come to the forefront as well:

When hope has took a ride
Unto the other side of town
And faith is swept away
And your world is closing down

Pain has called your name
Wants to place you in the ground
Remember stronger is the grace
The second time around

Rest your weary mind
Come and lay that burden down
Stronger is the grace
Every time around

“Harder They Fall”, staunch and guttural with its heavy set low end focus, brings the same type of melody as “Enslaved To Love” but in the more energy driven and upbeat package.  Correspondingly, chorus delivers hooks galore - if FM radio was friendly to music of this capacity “Harder The Fall” would be a choice selection - to help this rank with the albums best.  Guitar riffs, at the same time, play up the same type of near mesmerizing feel.

“Not Ready To Die Today” starts to a drum solo prior to moving ahead to an anthem-like riff and pounding drums.  The song just plain kicks the rest of the way, with periodic blues driven guitar harmonies, choppy rhythm guitars and a slower passage just past the halfway point with some ominous guitar tones playing a defining role.  Prevailing is the first word that comes to mind.  Lyric snippet:

Brave words
From such a little mind
You’d better understand
You’re on the losing side
Best you watch your words
With all your foolish talk
The taller that you stand
The harder you will fall

Squaring up to me
Dare you take the test
Take yourself on home
Or I’ll take my pound of flesh
Tough as nails you brag
Are you gonna make that call?

Instrumental “Messiah (Prelude)” maintains the penchant for beautiful guitar harmonies and melds them with an energetic tempo and catchy riff action.  So much feeling is exuded in the aftermath that I cannot help but be reminded of the track “Lost Soul” by the UK heavy metal band 100% Proof (off the 1983 release Power And The Glory).  An instrumental environs, in other words, finds May in his natural element.

The albums title track is similar to “Bitter Waters” in being an eight minute epic.  What “Valley Of Shadows” also holds in common is being an emotionally driven piece with a profound melody forming the basis in upholding acoustic guitar its length and periodic outbursts of jagged edge rhythm guitar.  Heartfelt and moving, the song proves you can traverse eight minute territory while keeping things fresh and relevant at the same time.  Lyric snippet:

Through the terrors of the night
To the dawning of the day
In the haze that surrounds me
I lift my head and pray

Deliver me from darkness
It’s more than I can bare
Remove this heavy burden
It’s way too much I swear

Oh Lord lead me through
The valley of shadows…

Closing things out is finely done acoustic reprise of “The Shallowing” (off Serpents Kiss) entitled “The Shallowing (Return)”.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Welcome To The Nightmare” (4:36), “No Ordinary Man” (4:34), “Bitter Waters” (7:43), “Enslaved To Love” (5:57), “Strong Is The Grace” (3:42), “Harder They Fall” (4:32), “Harder They Fall (4:32), “Not Ready To Die Today” (4:58), “Messiah (Prelude” (4:46), “Valley Of Shadows” (8:21), “The Shallowing (Return)” (4:08)

Al Atkins - Lead Vocals
Paul May - Guitars


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