Album: Walpyrgus Nights (2017)
Genre: power metal
Where to buy: Bandcamp
From North Carolina comes Walpyrgus, playing some of the most upbeat, cheery, melodic metal about graveyards, the risen dead, unknowable horrors, the obsessively macabre, and anything else you might associate with Vincent Price films or the lyrics of “Monster Mash.” In multi-part harmonies, accompanied by soaring and shredding guitars, Walpyrgus Nights leans into its subject matter with admirable enthusiasm. This is a combination of traditional heavy metal, power metal, glam rock, and punk, all genres associated with the late 70s and 80s, but now dressed up in modern production and having so much fun of its own that we can’t help but smile at this record. It takes a certain kind of familiarity, like a suspension of disbelief, to fully appreciate Walpyrgus Nights, but the album is so comfortable with its sound and its aims that it becomes easy to follow suit and enjoy some extremely cheesy metal.
Walpyrgus Nights wastes no time. As soon as “The Dead of Night” begins, the full band is rocking hard, with the first of many palm-muted riffs charging into the first verse, which immediately places us in a graveyard. Within a minute and a half, we’ve heard an intro, a verse, a chorus, and a bridge into the second verse. This is emblematic of the album’s song structures, which are very straightforward, though occasionally decorated by unexpected moments of creativity. One of my favorite examples is the chorus to the anthemic “Dead Girls.” The song begins like a punk jumper; the chorus actually precedes the first verse, something you might hear in a Ramones tune. The chorus is punctuated by backup yells, but the second half of the chorus resists the eight-bars-of-4/4 pattern upheld by the rest of the song. Instead, Walpyrgus throws in a bar of 2/4 and lengthens the third line of the chorus, seamlessly transitioning back to 4/4 as the chorus ends. This doesn’t detract from the catchiness of the song, which is an earworm, or from the audience’s ability to sing along, which is practically a requirement. These moments give the album a bit more zazz than your off-the-shelf power metal, and showcase Walpyrgus’s ability to bring together memorable melodies and inventive songwriting.
That sort of thing is only noticeable if you listen close, though. On the other hand, there are some things you can’t miss, for subtlety has not been invited to this album. At the forefront of Walpyrgus Nights are the vocals and the guitar work. Jonny Aune’s voice wails all over the album, chorused and harmonized over itself. He sings with abandon and commitment. There are moments where you’re not sure if you’re hearing his voice or a guitar screaming, like Jeff Martin’s work with Racer X. Special attention should be paid to the harmonies, which live in the realm of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing” (again, with apologies to Paul Gilbert). Walpyrgus can’t help but harmonize even the verses sometimes, such as on “Somewhere Under Summerwind,” but then they crank it up to 11 during the choruses. It’s hilarious and lends itself to the album’s subject matter. Meanwhile, the guitar is always active, adding little trills and grace notes and upper-register fills behind the lyrics. Bridges are full of these high-gain exclamations, but they really happen everywhere on the record. Often, these guitar licks are also harmonized, producing a sound very much like the dual guitars of Thin Lizzy or Blue Öyster Cult, and at other times like Iron Maiden or Scorpions. These influences come through strongly without relegating Walpyrgus Nights to homage status. “Lauralone” even takes its choral melody almost directly from the children’s song “Zachary Zach,” though this may be a coincidence, unless the members of Walpyrgus listened to Radio Aahs in the 90s.
In the end, Walpyrgus Nights is the sort of album that could only be produced by a band that is completely un-self-conscious. Walpyrgus gives us some of the cheesiest metal I’ve heard outside of 80s glam, and they do it just right: with total commitment and enough enthusiasm to infect us as we listen. The songs are so catchy you’ll be humming them for days. Upbeat party metal like this is in short supply in these, the days where nine out of ten metal bands are black, or death, or black death. Walpyrgus Nights is a welcome inoculation.