Austrian math rockers Valina bring with them new meaning to the old cliché “power trio.” Bands twice this size would have a difficult time generating the kind of thundering presence felt on A Tempo! A Tempo! But despite the purgative overtones, Anatol Bogendorfer (vocals, guitar), Florian Husbert Huber (bass), and Anselm Dürrschmid (drums) have always brought a keen sense of melodicism and emotional depth to a genre largely derided for its emphasis on technical prowess and obscure references to the Fibonacci sequence. The songs on the band’s third long player are another testament to how well they meld the disparaging worlds of pop and hard rock. The melodic hooks and discernible song structures of bands such as the Pixies are in place, but so too are the pulverizing grooves and angular time signature changes more common to Tool and Dream Theater.
Perhaps most refreshing are the lead vocals; despite having to compete with an intimidating rhythm section and the larger than life production style of Steve Albini, Bogendorfer never even comes close to the threshold of what his voice can handle. With the absence of stereotypical metal vocals, the listener has no choice then but to focus on the superb melodies and occasionally satirical (but highly entertaining) lyrics. “You are gently requested to shit like a swan,” sounds like something Zappa would’ve used in a Mothers of Invention project.
The album opens with the manic drumming of “Calendaria.” It’s an affecting and intense way to come out of the gate; the thick and gritty production on the drums and bass put them center stage while shards of distorted guitar tear through the texture. “Dogged” is a standout track, featuring the addition of a wind section. The band’s core three build the song’s drama through rhythmic hemiolas and unexpected changes in tempo while a saxophone and flugelhorn use long tone volume swells and spacious solos for contrast. The ironically titled “Per Sonare” (Giovanni Gabrieli, anyone?) tends to be more brooding and introspective than most of the other tracks on the disc. Evoking Soundgarden at their darkest, dramatic and lush guitar timbres float along as Bogendorfer sings, “We could have talked about it in Norway, France, or in Spain / Now I want to say that I’m happier here.”
“Idiom’s Palace” is one of the album’s only lowlights, where a Sonic Youth-style wall of abstract guitar noise gives way to a foreboding yet unoriginal drumbeat that couldn’t pummel you any harder if it tried. “Phantom Of My Longest Day” is once again a showcase for the rhythm section of band, allowing Huber and Dürrschmid to set up a brawny groove while the guitar is relegated to keeping time with airy harmonics that sound like they could’ve been ripped from Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero.”
The album’s first half doesn’t deviate much from the tried and true mix of gargantuan drums, gooey bass, and slightly dirty electric guitar. The album’s latter half, however, shows Valina pushing the envelope a bit more. “Clock Shock And Freedom,” though technically a segue into the next song, has an eclectic mix of bass harmonics and tick tock string work. “Delivery Man (Duane! Duane!)” finally sees Bogendorfer’s guitar work stepping up to the plate with a fiery mix of slick distortion and digital delay.
Maybe the best part of all is that you don’t need even need to know what hemiolas or polyrhythms are in order to enjoy A Tempo! A Tempo!. While there’s enough virtuosic playing here to keep the chop monsters and gear heads happy, the album’s greatest asset is its broad spectrum of pop accessibility: it’s a disc worth owning, and a band worth watching.