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Realism In Valyria’s “Into The Dying Time”

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Power metal faces a hurdle when crossing over to extreme metal listeners: power metal depicts an ordered universe, whereas extreme metal relishes in chaos. In power metal songs, there are good guys versus bad guys; in extreme metal, there are bad guys and worse guys. If there’s any order to the world of death metal, it’s an order where one does not come out on top. As a result, power metal can feel like a feint against a complicated and stressful reality, a way to escape into simple stories of heroes and villains.

Valyria confront this notion by labeling their new album Into the Dying Time as an example of “Realistic Escapism.” On the face of it, this term doesn’t tell you much about what the album sounds like, but when taken in conjunction with the actual material on the record, it does raise some interesting questions about what is meant with respect to realism in music.

Why does Valyria’s mix of power metal and melodic death metal scan more realistically than similar blends from their European predecessors? Their lyrics, usually the source of this kind of philosophical distinction, don’t offer many clues: the Canadians excel at the same brand of sword and sorcery combat that drives most power metal. Even if these battles are inspired by real world events, the sweeping keyboard arrangements and high-octane instrumentation elevates them to larger-than-life status. The only lyrical exception is “Floating World,” which looks toward a future where humanity is forced to leave a ruined Earth behind.

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Mankind fleeing its home planet after an ecological disaster is a subject as old as heavy metal itself. While this theme has its roots in a realistic threat to life on Earth, it could hardly be construed as escapist except in the most literal sense.

Still, despite the presence of digital harpsichords and fretboard-burning guitarwork, Into the Dying Time feels more approachable than your store-brand jaunty power metal record. Part of this comes from Valyria tempering their swords with tricks more common to metalcore bands, like the bass-boosted breakdown in “Steel Inquisition” or the does-it-djent intro to “The Crossing.” These elements keep Valyria from disappearing into a blur of hyperspeed runs.

What really gives Valyria their salt-of-the-Earth bona fides is bassist Cam Dakus’s vocal performance. Unlike the faux operatics or macho grit of the European and American camps of power metal, Dakus sings in the plain-spoken diction of a bystander to the events rather than an active participant. With a lower mix in the record’s production, Dakus presents himself as less of an avatar and more identifiably human. For some, this may defeat the very purpose of listening to power metal — people love their heroic tales, after all. However, for a genre so given to flights of delightful fancy, this humility is refreshing.

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