At this stage in the progressive metal game, virtually no one would willingly saddle themselves with the "djent" tag. This is the way of subgenres, and particularly those that dare to forge a genuinely new path. Arguably the last truly unprecedented development in mainstream metal (and no, none of it would exist without MESHUGGAH), the scene was effectively kick-started by its two finest bands — PERIPHERY and TESSERACT — both of whom have continually evolved, steadily releasing records that put the vast majority of their unintended offspring to shame, and generally proving that 'djent' was never really a genre in the first place; rather, it was a convenient umbrella under which all manner of ingenious nerds have gathered and now, it seems, dispersed.
All of which made VALIS ABLAZE's patently high-quality debut album, 2018's "Boundless", something of an oddity — here was a band with self-evident roots in the UK's tech-metal scene, with very clear shades of those aforementioned standard bearers and forebears, and not a vast amount that stood out from the bendy-riffed crowd. And yet, VALIS ABLAZE showed immense potential, not least in their admirable attempts to write real, red-blooded songs, as opposed to collages of polyrhythms, implausible riffs and over-reverbed metalcore choruses. Could this have been one last, manic rush into fresh creative pastures for an otherwise moribund subgenre? Just over a year on from the release of that intriguing debut, "Render" seems to answer loudly in the affirmative. Where so many bands have struggled to think outside the genre box with this stuff, VALIS ABLAZE have worked wonders here, drawing a whole host of subtle ideas into their formerly straightforward sound and, significantly, penning songs that transcend any association with the post-PERIPHERY set.
Fading in on a FLOYDian surge of bottom end, opener "Neon Dreaming" is underpinned by an unmistakably post-'Shuggah riff: it's not until vocalist Phil Owen appears through the melee of riffs, an engaging human touchstone around whom this album's melodic core revolves, that the Brits truly take flight. When the chorus kicks in, it's a blaze of pure euphoria, Owen's harmonized voice soaring over an intricate but insistent web of noise that ebbs and flows, dynamic but precise. Recent single "Hollow Heart" is even more jaw-dropping — a beautifully crafted song floating over a perfectly pitched but hard-edged attack. The singer's soulful pleas bring warmth and depth to the streamlined riff chassis below. Even more impressive is "The Convincer": a whirlwind six minutes taking in pristine art rock, twinkling ambience, skull-flattening heaviness and another elegant performance from Owen that glues all these skewed elements together. Again, nothing here is trying to convince you that VALIS ABLAZE are not fully djent-enabled, but the vast leaps this band have made in their songwriting should ensure that "Render" reaches fans of progressive rock, both ancient and modern, and any number of off-piste alt-rock strains. The quality never drops, either. The aching bombast of "Infinite World" and bruising closer "Elevation" may well be the best of the bunch.
VALIS ABLAZE have produced another album full of promise here, but this time it's plain that they have much more to offer than a neat take on a familiar sound. Seemingly evolving in real time on "Render", these next-level technicians are fully equipped for the long haul. In the end, you just can't argue with great songs.