Hot on the heels of their recent two for one archive reissue of New Dawn and Alive And Gigin' for Angel Air Records, British classic rock veterans Stray return with their first album of all new material in almost ten years entitled Valhalla.
Although the band has gone through its share of lineup changes since they first arrived on the scene back in the mid 60's, the fact is they've never really been away from the scene for too long, and now original member Del Bromham (guitars, vocals) seems poised to take his power trio into their (well his really) fifth decade. While some may call Valhalla a comeback record, if anything I think it proves that there is still quite a bit of gas left in the tank, because this disc just might be their best one to date.
Produced by Chris Tsangarides (Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Anvil) Valhalla comes out swinging with the double barreled, hard rock blast of "Move A Mountain" and "Dirt Finger", which certainly shows them to be aiming for a harder edged and more simplistic approach this time out. Chock full of Bromham's trademark guitar riffs and wah wah drenched solos, these two tracks set the tone for the rest of the album. However, more importantly I think they also highlight the great strides Del has made as a vocalist over the years. Never one to shy away from letting his views on religion and politics find their way into his lyrics, he offers up his take on the stupidity of war and the importance of freedom on "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" and "Free At Last", both of which are extremely solid tracks that pack a positive message. Backed by the busy, rock solid rhythm section of bassist Stuart Uren and drummer Karl Randall, Del is free to cut loose with plenty of extended solos, and he absolutely cooks on "Harry Farr", "Double Six" and "Sing (The Song). Another of Vahalla's standout tracks, and one of my favorites, is "Rainy Day Blues" where the six string maestro lays down a super charged funky rhythmic foundation before turning out a couple of short, but blistering solos. The album concludes with "You" , which is maybe the closest thing Stray will ever get to a power ballad, but nevertheless this song not only features more of Del's signature, melodic soloing but also contains one of his most heartfelt vocal performances as well.
With Valhalla it's not as if Stray has reinvented the wheel, because if anything their sound has remained pretty consistent over the years and you pretty much know what to expect every time. That being said, it certainly feels like everything fell into place this time around because the songs are killer, the production is great and Del and the boys are definitely firing on all cylinders.
1) Move A Mountain
2) Dirt Finger
3) 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
4) Free At Last
5) Harry Farr
7) Double Six
9) Sing (The Song)
10) Rainy Day Blues