REVIEW: The Wise Man’s Fear – Valley of Kings [2020]

Artist: The Wise Man’s Fear

Album: Valley of Kings

            When Patrick Rothfuss began writing his series of novels known as the Kingkiller Chronicles, he probably didn’t expect the cult hit he would soon have on his hands. With the (heavily) rumored third installment, Doors of Stone coming in August, its only fair that the band titled after the series’ second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, break their silence with Valley of Kings, a whimsical, fantasy-tinted metalcore record that runs the gamut between earth-splittingly heavy and ethereal and atmospheric. Valley of Kings sees the band incorporating more of the aggressive elements that made their debut release hit so hard, all while still having a heavy hand with the more melodic and “fantastic” elements that give the band their “fantasy-core” moniker. With Valley of Kings hitting on most of the things a solid metalcore record should hit on, the question is truly this: does the record truly feel kingly?

            Valley of Kings has songs that feel as though they could be B-sides to a contemporary deathcore record, songs that feel almost post-hardcore or alternative in nature and songs that run right in the middle of that somewhat striking divide. Sounds good, right? It is—with percussion that sounds like booming cannons, especially on record heavy-hitters “Firefall” and “Tree of Life.” Meanwhile, “The River and the Rock” and “Breath of the Wild” see the monstrous percussion serving as an anchor for the otherwise ethereal nature of the high-flying guitars and symphonic elements that transport the listener into a faraway paradise. The middle is found in songs like the lead single, “The Relics of Nihlux,” where catchy choruses trade off with crunchy breakdowns. Here, thick, rumbling bass keeps the elements tight, allowing for smooth transitions in and out of bone-snapping bouts of heaviness. With all this said, the stand-out segments are often found in the record’s heavier cuts. Take “Tree of Life” for example—perhaps the only song I can off-the-cuff recall that contains a breakdown led by a woodwind instrument. Meanwhile, “Firefall” is simply vicious, stopping at nothing to end the record on a ruthless note. Here, the leads sound like something double-dropped out of an Oceano record, with vocals to match. These are in stark contrast to much of the record—even well-balanced closer, “Valley of Kings,” which, despite confidently striding the metalcore middle-ground, feels choppy and somewhat disjointed, lacking many of the transitions that makes the rest of Valley of Kings flow so well.

            Vocally, The Wise Man’s Fear are archetypal for their genre—with harsh, grating screams that segue smoothly into soaring cleanly-sung segments. Songs like “Breath of the Wild” lean more heavily towards singing—featuring them in near-entirety, while “Firefall” is as grisly as the instrumentation would have one expect. Those songs, along with “Tree of Life” and “What Went Wrong” are excellent examples of vocal dynamism and range, but as a whole, much of the vocal element is simply nondescript. The Wise Man’s Fear’s vocal component neither hinders the band, nor does it massively help the band, other than some moments of exception. One of these is the patterning and candor towards the end of “Tree of Life,” or the sheer power within “Firefall.” Another element worth noting that truly makes The Wise Man’s Fear work as well as they do conceptually would be the lyrical component. Without sounding or feeling like you’re reading a book on tape, The Wise Man’s Fear expertly provide a loosely literary, immensely fantastical atmosphere and concept to their music, setting them apart from the droves of modern metalcore acts abusing the heavy-soft dynamic.

            Valley of Kings is a solid record. With some truly exceptional bits adding replay value, a strong concept and excellently crafted lyrics that convey a sense of powerful storytelling, The Wise Man’s Fear do a lot right. However, much of the record is somewhat bland, leaving little to separate many of the songs that crowd the record’s middle stretch. It might be prudent to assert that cutting several of the middle songs and leaving the first and last three might have made a stronger EP than the existing full length—however, none of the record is truly bad, and much of it sees The Wise Man’s Fear really getting increasingly comfortable in their “fantasy-core” role.


For Fans Of: Like Moths to Flames, From Atlantis, Confide

By: Connor Welsh