WHEN THE DEADBOLT BREAKS “As Hope Valley Burns: Eulogy”

By The Great Sun Jester

WHEN THE DEADBOLT BREAKS’ mix of doom, gritty realism, and psychedelia drops the four (sometimes five) piece into metal’s hinterlands. They resist labels and aren’t a tidy fit for any of our customary pigeonholes over a fifteen-year long career. Their rugged individualism remains intact, their artistic vision widens, and they serve up surprises during their eighth and latest album “As Hope Valley Burns: Eulogy”. This five-song collection deserves consideration as being among 2021’s finest efforts.

Aaron Lewis remains the band’s songwriting center. The band’s singer and guitarist leads the way on the album’s opener “I Live in the Dirt”. This cheerfully titled ditty clocks in a little over the twelve minute mark; it’s a duration certain to make some readers or listeners roll their eyes at first but it’s well worth the time. His vocals broker little compromise. You’ll either think his style of delivery, a near-monotonous mumble much of the time, is appropriate for the music or else long for more traditional singing. I fall in the former camp rather than the latter.

It soon moves from the understated electric guitar, gentle soundscapes, and keyboards of the opening section. WHEN THE DEADBOLT BREAKS lowers the proverbial boom on listeners with abrasive blasts of distorted guitar, but it coalesces into turgid scorched earth riffing. It’s an opening statement that eventually steamrolls any resistance. Lewis redlines his guitar during the entirety of “Cleanse the Death”. If the opener’s heavier half skirts the edges of horror, the second track’s six-string pyrotechnics light the world on fire.

Some listeners may long for a stronger drum sound. “God’s Eyes”, in particular, would pack an even heavier wallop if the drumming counterpointed Lewis’ guitar with more authoritative punch. It’s much closer to black metal than doom. The final original “Forever in the Fire” harkens back to the album opener with its beginning. Lewis builds the track around a simple yet ominous guitar melody and develops his ideas from there. It’s a closer that highlights some of his best guitar playing despite the track alternating between light and dark.

WHEN THE DEADBOLT BREAKS’ cover of THE DOORS’ “Not to Touch the Earth”. It’s an unusual pick for a DOORS cover, everyone knows the usual suspects, and gives the band more than ample opportunity for flaunting their psychedelia chops. It’s naturally much different in sound and execution than the original, but Lewis and his bandmates pay appropriate homage to THE DOORS without ever imitating them.

“As Hope Valley Burns: Eulogy”, as the title implies, has some of the trappings of a concept album. There’s a thematic thread running through the five songs that Lewis patiently and successfully fleshes out for listeners and, by the album’s conclusion, you can’t help but be impressed by his ambition. WHEN THE DEADBOLT BREAKS pushes their borders and comes up with their best release yet.