Death Valley High – ‘Cvlt (As Fvk)’ Album Review

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It’s been a long time since there was anyone new to get excited about on the industrial scene, so when you get a band who have cut their teeth touring alongside such genre luminaries as Filter and, more recently, Killing Joke, it’s worth sitting up and paying attention. Based in Northern California, Death Valley High pack a powerful punch with their monstrous, synth-infused beats, filtered vocals and arcing riffs, yet for all the middle-finger-in-the-air attitude there’s also a pop nous that will have you coming back for more once the album fully worms its way into your consciousness. It’s a frantic album, unburdened by the need for reflection or subtlety, and there’s a strong argument to be made that Death Valley High are exactly the New-Rock-Boot-To-The-Arse the genre has needed for some time.

Like Marilyn Manson, one artist from whom the band take an obvious cue, DVH know the value of a pop hook and so, whilst opening number ‘sunshine cleaners’ has a solid industrial foundation that could lead foundations to crumble, there’s a deadly hook threaded through the crashing riffs and harsh vocals that is instantly addictive. The band’s dark, gothic roots are exposed with the sleazy ‘warm bodies’, which sounds like Ministry brutalising the 69 eyes, and the band deftly weave traditional song structures into the harsh, beat-driven framework, delivering a chorus that is surprisingly radio-friendly in the process. In contrast, the stuttering menace of ‘Psalm bitch’ sounds like the band first encountered Marilyn Manson whilst playing on the Super Nintendo and confused the 8 bit electronic burbles coming from that machine with the music on the stereo. It’s brilliantly off-kilter, and whilst the riffs arrive to save the song from itself, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that DVH have truly put their own spin upon a genre where it is far easier to emulate than innovate. The band’s counter-intuitive approach to song construction continues with ‘Ick switch’, a synth nightmare that recalls the weird experiments in sound that Trent Reznor constructed on disc 2 of ‘The Fragile’ crossbred with Marilyn Manson’s ‘The beautiful People’. As such it offers both melody, power and weirdness in roughly equal measures, and whilst you can’t escape the notion it’ll pack the dancefloor, it seems likely that the awkward intro will see dancers tie themselves in knots trying to keep up. If ‘Ick Switch’ sounds like a ghoulish anthem, then ‘Play dead’ makes no secret of its arena-sized ambitions with its four-to-the-floor stomp, glam-infused riffs and breathy vocals. More pop than rock, ‘play dead’ sounds like Depeche Mode, updated for the 00s and clad in industrial strength armour. Refusing to stay still for too long, DVH plunge the listener headlong into the seething angst of ‘Groei Donker (grow dark)’, a riff-driven track that does full justice to the Deftones comparisons that have been bandied about in press releases.  

The second half of the album kicks off with the twisted metallic-pop of ‘The bad book’, a pulsing rhythmic creature with robotic hips and sex on the brain. Weirder still, ‘Merci (FVKT)’ takes a pinch of indie, a touch of the cure and throws it into a blender with Filter’s heavily compressed riffing for a track that requires an absinthe enema to shift. The album’s heaviest track, ‘1213 (as many fvks)’ surges with the same slithery power employed by the Deftones on ‘White Pony’, and the awkward time shifts are enough to leave most casual observers employing a calculator in order to figure out when to bang their head. ‘Flowers for Amy Deville’ keeps the pace dark and heavy, the stuttering electronics adding a futuristic sheen to the riffs before ‘Tiptoe thru the 2 crypts’ savages the listener with its odd-ball dynamics and skittering beats. It just goes to show that DVH may have their ambition, but it does not come at the expense of delivering songs with a lethal edge when required. The album concludes, somewhat breathlessly, with ‘there was an old lady’, an updated take on the children’s rhyme of the same name that recalls Korn’s ‘Shoots and ladders’ in the way it gleefully subverts a seemingly innocent poem and turns it into a damaged piece of performance art that leaves the listener feeling somewhat dirty.

Whilst ‘Cvult (as fvk)’ may be a potent body of work, it is also a huge amount of fun. For every guitar-fuelled white out, there’s a massive, beat-laden dance-floor-filler waiting in the wings. Clearly influenced by a wide-range of acts, DVH take liberally from pop, rock, dance and metal to create a sound that is bold, bright and shiny and it’s easy to imagine the band gaining a substantial following off the back of this release. It’s been a while since we’ve encountered a release that makes heavy music sound like so much fun, but more than that, DVH have the hooks and the talent to back up their effervescence. Put simply, ‘Cvlt (as fvk)’ is a day-glo explosion of earth-shaking beats, sinister goth undertones and eccentric metal and it’s more than worth your time. 8

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