1. A Faithless Ritual
2. You Got Nothing
3. Lost In Shock
4. Punk Song
5. It Won't Stop
6. Skull & Pistons
7. She Is So
8. Blue Desert
9. Electric Church
Even though it got off to a very bad start in a lot of ways, the one thing that’s been great about 2020 so far has been its music, which has been a blessed and much-needed release from the socio-political madness of witnessing the people of Britain willingly submit themselves to bring ruled, pecked and pulled to pieces by dead-eyed elite vultures, but that's a rant for another time and place. Listening to new music is my panacea and I'm delighted to say that I've already heard at least four absolutely stonking new releases this year - and it’s only just the beginning of March, which bodes well for the remaining nine months. The most exciting little factoid about all of this is that two of them are debut albums by bands that I'd never even heard of before the bells rang out at Hogmanay.
My review copy of this, the debut album by Sky Valley Mistress, dropped into my inbox recently and it's fair to say that after listening to it a few times, I'm rather enamoured with it - but before I get into why that's the case, I'd better tell y'all a bit about the band. They're a feisty four-piece outfit from Blackburn, East Lancashire consisting of (deep breath) Maxwell Harvey William Newsome III on drums, Russell 'Russell' Russell on bass, Sean 'Starsky' Berry on guitars and Kayley 'Hell Kitten' Davies on vocals. They've been kicking out the jams since 2012 but only recently signed to New Heavy Sounds and managed to prick the seasoned ears of producer Dave Catching, the almost-right-hand-man of Queens of the Stone age, member of The Eagles of Death Metal and a dude who is so synonymous with various acts of the Californian 'Desert Rock' scene that he's almost part-cactus. Most impressively, he personally invited Sky Valley Mistress out to his studio in Joshua Tree, California to record this album, which should already give you a bit of an inkling into how they roll and, indeed, how they rock.
The album opens up with a dude (who might or might not be Dave Catching himself) drawling a spoken-word sermon, describing how this record is going to perforate your eardrums and puncture your heart, and when the opening bars of 'You Got Nothing' exploded out of my speakers, I briefly wondered if ear-protectors were going to be required, but couldn't help but break into a big dirty grin because its big fuzzy guitars, pounding drums and rumbling bass instantly sounded EPIC and I found it impossible to stay still in my seat. Even better, the band’s already-awesome sound levels-up considerably when it’s joined by the voice of frontwoman Kayley, who sets about reeling you in, her voice like liquid honey but stoked to the rafters with attitude. There's the unmistakable sound of a well-oiled Rock band firing on all cylinders here, and it's possible to detect hints of Kyuss and Fu Manchu in their sound, which shouldn't be too surprising considering who's twiddling the knobs and pulling the levers behind the curtain. The song is based around a beefy and bluesy groove of a riff and it's packed with plucky lyrics such as 'You brought yourself out to be a broken man / your only mark on this world will be a hole in the ground', with Kayley really belting her vocals out before the song briefly dips into a quieter section and breaks unrelenting into a repeated refrain of "You got nothin" towards its end, with Kayley sounding every bit the bona-fide Rock goddess. It's a belter of a track to open the album on and I can honestly say that it got me excited to hear what was coming next.
I wasn't disappointed at all when the opening to 'Lost In Shock' moseyed out of my speakers, the opening is so bluesy that I could almost smell cigars and whiskey. There's a simple but effective groove that underpins it all, with Newsome's drums sounding thunderous, Berry's guitars sounding suitably distorted and Russell's bass providing a meaty rumble behind it all. Catching evidently plays his part too because he’s done a neat spit and polish job on the production to make everything sound stupendously good. Frontwoman Kayley is of course front and centre in the mix, her voice slinking around the soundscape, sounding as if she'd snap your spine if you got out of line, singing 'It was if I knew / The moment that I kissed / Death on the cheek / That I started to wish'. It’s a big stompy bastard of a track.
With a name like ‘Punk Song’, you might expect the next track to be somewhat faster and snotty, but it opens straight into a laid back and sleazy riff that conjures up images of a grotty strip joint somewhere in deepest, darkest Alabama, where whiskey flows like water from a fountain and you’d do well not to spill anyone’s pint. Things take a seriously sexy twist as Kayley pipes up with her vocals, silkily drawing out her lines while the band creates a glorious stomp behind her, building on that big dirty riff. The track stalks and rocks through several sections, breaking into quieter mellow moments in between the loud bits, with Kayley switching from kitten to Rock goddess in the blink of an eye when the song allows it. At six and a half minutes long, it's a track that could have outstayed its welcome were a lesser band behind it, but Sky Valley Mistress keep it interesting as it weaves, bobs and twists enough to keep you engaged right up until its block-rocking finale.
Up next, 'It Won't Stop' opens quietly with a lightly jingling tambourine and muted guitar chords, which is a big change from the previous track and shows that the band are intent on keeping things varied. Kayley comes into the mix early, lyrics pouring earnestly from her heart; "It won't stop / Like a clock ticking / ‘Til there's no time left to tell / One shot / Is all I need to send me straight back to hell", while the band sounds like a coiled spring, ready to ping into action at the snap of a finger. There’s the inevitable break into heavy riffage after the pin-drop opening and track leads you along a path littered with quiet/loud/quiet sections that press all of the right buttons, the band again managing to keep things interesting with a few threatened and delayed sections of monolithic riffage teased as the quiet bits extend unpredictably past the points you think they're going to end. Kayley lets rip with her awesome vocal talents as the song reaches its crescendos, transforming it into a big bluesy beast of a track that oozes with attitude and originality.
You don’t get any time to breathe however, as 'Skulls & Pistons' comes next; the song title that immediately evoking images of Mad Max-esque auto-violence-and-destruction, with Russell's bass effectively emulating the sound of a muscular engine in the opening behind Newsome's thundering drums and Berry's shredding and wailing guitars. The track revs up to the red line, unleashing a thousand horses onto the slick asphalt, drag-racing its way down your auditory canals while Kayley sits behind the wheel, slickly shifting gear and stomping her foot hard on the gas, her smoky voice resonating tightly with the growling engine of the band as she drives you towards a cliff-edge pursued by an eighteen-wheeler crammed with psychopaths. It’s a high-octane rocker that will leave you breathless and broken.
With the sound of squealing feedback announcing its arrival, "She Is So" bounces straight into a nine-bar-blues riff with huge fuzzy guitars that sound almost like they've been lifted straight from a Kyuss album thanks to Catching’s awesome production. It's another track that plays funny buggers with the quiet/loud/quiet rulebook as it grabs your hand and leads you along its rocky path, breaking into a slower section with buzzing guitars at the quarter mark. There’s some flashes of lyrical genius too, with lines like “She’ll grab you by the neck rip and tear you apart / With a kick in the teeth and a blow to the heart”. It's all very Rock'n'Roll.
It's time for a bit of a monster. The penultimate track on the album, 'Blue Desert', is an eleven-minute epic that unfurls slowly, settling into a slow and quiet groove that’ll make you sink back into your chair and close your eyes. It's a super chilled-out and bluesy number which sees the band simmering quietly, sounding constantly like they’re going to explode into a wall of noise while Kayley delivers the vocals in her trademark Rock goddess fashion, albeit retrained somewhat to match the band. There are a few moments of threatened heaviness, but they fizzle out quickly and it’s not until the track slips past the seven minute mark that it finally breaks out into a surprisingly funky riff that sits slightly at odds with the rest of the album, but works brilliantly. They’re joined in the fray by a quartet of strings towards the final quarter of the song, which adds an epic sheen to the proceedings and, as could be expected, it descends into a tumbling dervish of pounding drums and screeching guitars that reach a crescendo before it's brought full-circle back to the slow, gentle groove that it started with. It’s a truly epic and beautiful track on which the band really demonstrate their songwriting chops and musicianship.
The final track 'Electric Church' sees the band returning back into familiar Stoner-Rock territory, setting off at pace with a flurry of drumming and detonating into a fuzzy-buzzy riff courtesy of Russell and Berry that drives the track along to Newsome’s punchy tub-thumping. Kayley, as ever, is front and centre on this track and she really lets loose with her awesome pipes while the band’s arrangement curves and twists enough times to keep your interest piqued. It switches through a variation of several riffs and beats, and completely changes pace towards its end, finally exploding into a howling frenzy of riffage and rumbling drums, which serve a suitably raucous ending to the album.
It’s always a pleasure to review a debut album by a band, and it delights me to say that this has been a particularly awesome one to write because Sky Valley Mistress (with the help of Dave Catching) have knocked the ball out of the park with their punchy songwriting, amazing musicianship and Kayley’s frankly wondrous voice. She sounds like she’s successfully summoned the spirit of Janis Joplin to enchant her vocal cords with power and magic and is sure to become a renowned name in the vaulted halls of Rock in her own right, given time. Of course, it would be doing the band a disservice if I didn’t also laud Newsome, Russell and Berry’s similarly awesome talents, because the noise they generate is undoubtedly fabulous and forms the metaphysical canvas onto which Kayley paints her vocals.
In uncertain times such as these, it could be so easy for young bands to feel inhibited and slapped-down by (and excuse me for getting political again) the depressing reality of recent events, but it stokes the heart of this old dog that the spirit of Rock’n’Roll remains undiminished and is still raising a cocky middle finger to its oppressors. More interestingly however is the fact that Sky Valley Mistress are not intent on ambling down a well-trodden path with their music and evidently don’t give a toss about appealing to the masses; they’re striking out at a tangent and forging their own course, which is a brave and exciting thing to do, so it will be interesting to see how their career progresses.
If music that’s stoked with attitude, sass and enough licks, riffs and grooves to fill a canyon sounds good to you, I can wholeheartedly recommend that you give Sky Valley Mistress a whirl - their sound is every bit as epic as the imagery generated by their name suggests. They will award your ears with towering riffs and whiskey-soaked blues, and if you are/were a fan of the recently-disbanded (and much missed) Black Moth - who were also curiously signed to New Heavy Sounds - they will most certainly appeal to you.
Website - www.skyvalleymistress.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/skyvalleymistress/
Review - Craig Henderson