The importance of editing should never be underestimated. It takes a lot for a person in any creative medium to step outside themselves and be able to recognize that, while you may be intensely proud of what you’ve made, some of it needs to be cut off to save the rest; a kind of apoptosis. Never forget that, while a cheeky wee guitar solo can be essential, after a point it’s just diminishing returns. It’s nigh on impossible to count the number of genuinely interesting prog rock songs that have been lost to unwieldy length and arrogance on the part of their creators. This leads us straight to Dublin based band Val Normal’s debut LP Flying The White Flag Of War, a record which, while filled with some genuinely sublime stretches, is spoiled by half-formed ideas, overwrought song lengths and clear absence of any kind of editor’s voice.
The first track, ‘Inked On The Eye’, is sort of a microcosm for the album, and by extension the band as a whole. Thick grunge rhythms, emotional vocals and math rock inspired guitar riffs, it gets the blood pumping and the head banging. It’s a bit of big, dumb fun at first, but the song is nearly seven minutes. Bear in mind that ‘Freebird’ barely ekes it’s way over the nine minute mark. As those minutes clock up, that feeling of excitement keeps dwindling until you’re hoping that the song would just end already. This is track one and there is another hour of music until the curtain closes, which is a pretty fundamental issue that the album never comes close to resolving. The band seems to very much be stuck in that mindset that more is more and don’t seem to realise that just because you can play a tapping mathy solo does not mean you should. It’s the “Dream Theatre problem”; technicality, length and onerousness over songwriting.
It’s really unfortunate because parts of the album are really quite good. ‘Wall’ is an excellent example of this. It’s heavy when it needs to be, has the nice balance between the more straightforward and mathy elements of their sound and the vocals capture a sense of longing and genuine sadness. It’s the sort of thing that Basement might make if they were more technical. But mid way through there is movement that breaks the flow and doesn’t fit musically. It derails the track and dulls the impact of the explosive conclusion. It turns a very good track into a halfway decent one in about thirty seconds. The rest of the album is littered with songs such as these where the bones of a good song are there, but for reason they’ve got a few extra limbs fused on for no discernible reason. It’s a shame because when the band are good, they’re very good. This debut does have more than enough moments to suggest that there is something more to Val Normal, but it’s only a suggestion. Will Murphy