After a three-year hiatus, Kris Barras Band returns to the world of LP creation with Death Valley Paradise. As the title might suggest, this entry into his catalog feels far darker in tone and lyrics than 2019’s Light It Up. Attentive listening will reveal that a lot of this shift in attitude comes from the many pains and anxieties experienced living through the pandemic. However, it would be remiss not to mention that Barras has recruited a new rhythm section in Billy Hammett (drums) and Kelpie Mackenzie (bass), and most importantly, he enlists Dan Weller to produce the album.
Barras also tries his hand at collaborative songwriting. Combined with Weller’s metal background which features heavily throughout, and the darker introspective lyrics, the resulting collection feels rather different than previous albums, even if Barras’s signature growl and riff-heavy guitar lines still drive the music. Similarly, Barras keeps the compositions tight as he has done in the past. All the songs lie within the three to four minute range. The music never meanders and the instrumental passages never drag.
“Dead Horses” wastes no time opening the album and setting the tone with hard-charging, riff-driven rock. “My Parade”, “Who Needs Enemies,” and “Devil You Know” share similar structures combining loud, heavy rock with huge choruses made for playing to large arenas. Guitar solos serve as impassioned additions to the tracks, but remain short and to the point. On a few songs, they fill in the back half of a given number as a quasi-bridge.
A speedy opening guitar line and perhaps the most melodically interesting verse structure on the album anchor the standout, “These Voices.” It also features some of Barras’s most considered prose, and the little extra space in the mix helps to separate the different instruments and differentiate the song from some of the other rockers. “Hostage” falls into this category as well—a heavy rock tune with a bit of a twist. Here, Barras uses the main guitar riff as the climatic chorus instead of a sung stanza.
“Wake Me When It’s Over” and “Bury Me” stand out for their slower tempos and softer tonal approaches. The former features slower guitar phrases, more emotive singing, and a heavy focus on the lyrical content. Its contrasting guitar solo is a screaming shred and one of the album’s best. “Bury Me” shares these characteristics and throws in a bit of acoustic guitar and piano for a pleasing change of pace.
Is Death Valley Paradise a better album than Light It Up? The answer will depend on the listener. This recent effort is much harder and darker, and Weller’s influence as producer can be felt through the hints of metal dropped in and around the songs. Barras’s lyrics have improved and turned inward at times, which is another contrast to Light It Up, where at times the words played only a supporting role. The songs are solid, the musicianship excellent, and Kris Barras brings a unique attitude to his music that has endeared him to his fans. Hard rock fans will find many songs and nuanced moments to enjoy.
The Review: 7.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– These Voices
– Wake Me When It’s Over
– Bury Me
The Big Hit
– These Voices