An album swept up in the untimely death of a lead singer is always difficult to review. Mikey Clement only recently passed away, and given the power of this new record we have to wonder what could have been. I'll be totally honest: I haven't kept as up to date with progressive metal in recent years as I probably should have, but I have certainly been able to see how things have been generally evolving, and I can tell you this: Valleys are in many ways the culmination of a long running movement. I'm not necessarily saying that they are the best out there, simply the ones who best represent the scene. Their touches of djent, Vildjharta-esque drops and breakdowns worthy of Veil of Maya prove that not only are these guys some of the hardest rocking prog metal bands out there today but also among the most technically competent. The hard work poured into this record is immediately palatable and it represents something far beyond your standard metal record. In many ways Experiment One: Asylum is the kind of art that brings the whole genre up with it.
The entire concept of Experiment One: Asylum is fascinating; it's meant to reflect the life and struggles of someone suffering from multiple personal disorder. The way that they portray various vocals (Beyond the obvious clean/growl split) is tastefully done and evidences all of the hard work poured into the record. Meanwhile, the absolutely gorgeous production allows the band to capture a variety of emotion and can leave you gasping for air or reveling in a triumphant sonic stew. Experiment One: Asylum creates a veritable tone poem with layers of the sound playing off of each other in order to help generate a fully immersive sonic experience.
Overall the musicianship and performance on the album is absolutely stellar as well. The compositions flow nicely and capture the desired emotions and some of the riffs are simply absurd in their technicality. Meanwhile, the band clearly has a strong handle on soundscaping, helping to make Experiment One: Asylum to be a fully immersive release. That being said there are a few holes in what Valleys are doing here. For example, I feel like the clean vocals don't necessarily come off as well as the band would like them to. They feel a bit to thin in places and detract from the overall atmosphere – especially when contrasted with growls that deliver so well. Yet certain passages left me utterly blown away… speaking to the sheer talent of Mikey Clement. Furthermore, the band wear their influences on their collective sleeves, and that's fine but at times it can just feel a bit weird. Nevertheless, the angular guitar playing and songwriting wizardry that define this album help to save it from any sort of limitations that might be extrapolated from these faults.
The point I'm trying to make (I think) is that Valleys are still growing as a band. They are doing something powerful and exciting, something that reflects their scene but which is also very intelligent and promises to bring the genre forward. These are the kinds of things that helps to make the music grow and it's important for the genre as a whole that bands like this exist. Experiment One: Asylum is a good but not great record, but as a debut it speaks volumes to what the band is capable of and makes you wonder what would have happened if we hadn't lost Mikey Clement. Incredibly ambitious and very exciting Experiment One: Asylum is an interesting listen with a compelling story. Despite the tragedy surrounding the record, it stands as a testament to the enduring power of progressive music.