Review Summary: Reality is the enemy.
On their debut album Vast Active Living Intelligence System
, the ex-Screaming Trees bassist, Van Conner-led stoner act, Valis, showed some great skills and potential, even if they sometimes sounded unfocused.
However, on their second album Head Full Of Pills
, the band have improved greatly. Each song here has a groove of its own and everything ranges from spaced out stoner like the title track and "Across The Sky" to the fast and heavy burners that pretty much shape the rest of the album. The whole production is murky as expected, but the bass isn't pushed out in front to a deafening volume, so that here you can actually hear the guitars and other soundscapes that make this record this good.
The entire album is heavily influenced by early stoner masters, Black Sabbath and all kinds of traces of modern stoner acts like Fatso Jetson, only a bit heavier. Since Van Conner has a lot of experience earned from the Screaming Trees era, everything here is high standard. This way Conner & Co. bring what's best to the listener.
It's hard to pick one or two highlights as each track has its own atmosphere. "Motorbike" might be the standout right away. Being as catchy as it is a lot of fun, this song makes for a great soundtrack for a drive out, with all the aggressive riffs and the high pitched vocals that resemble Ozzy Osbourne's. In contrast with it, there is the title track, "Head Full Of Pills," that at a slower tempo with a deep bass and wailing guitars in the background, create a stoned yet stressed out vibe over which Van Conner repeats "reality is the enemy". The song might be one of the best stoner rock can give.
"Voyager" is another masterpiece here. While it may be a grower, the song is one of the most accomplished Valis tracks, if not the most. At a 6-minute length, the band throws everything in with a surprisingly great result. Launching off with a really groovy hard riff drowned in soundscapes and reverbed vocals, the song progresses to a breakdown, only to restart to a thunderous finale."Across The Sky" is another nice addition to the album. The downright infectious dreamy chorus, the sparse, lush piano and again the guitar solos make this song really beautiful. It might be Valis' closest attempt at a power ballad, but without the cheesiness it usually comes with it.
Head Full Of Pills
has only 8 tracks and 3 interludes clocking in at about 41 minutes. While this is a sufficient length, since more of it can become tiresome to the listener, the interludes only blur the album, giving the Head-Full-Of-Pills vibe but neither of them being necessary. Also, the closer, "Perpetual Motion Machine", could've been trimmed by a minute or two, having the same structure as "Voyager".
However, the album is a great accomplishment for Valis and aside from a few small unnecessary features, this is a really good example of how great stoner rock can be.