Last time we dropped in on San Francisco-based “Doom Pop” unit Death Valley High, they were being massacred by their own demonic doppelgängers in the bloody music video “Multiply,” from their 2011 album Doom, In Full Bloom. Fortunately, they survived to rock another day, appropriately dropping the interim EP Survival Program (its release coinciding with a certain failed apocalyptic prediction you might have heard about), and resurfacing this week with a new full-length studio album, Positive Euth.
The quartet remain true to their roots in gothic rock, blues, horror punk, metal and power-pop, jumping from one genre to the next with wild abandon, but they've undergone some more solidifying changes since their inception in 2010, something frontman Reyka Osburn attributes to a “reawakening” phase in DVH's creative evolution. “It’s all about shedding dead layers and limbs, and re-animating,” he explains. “We survived doomsday to be positively undead.” Besides the literal use of those themes (i.e. “Undead Eat Lead” and “Re-Animation”), the band also reveals a musical rebirth into a darker and heavier sound, with less emphasis on melodic purity and more on dramatic intensity – but it's still delivered across a dynamic range bordering on chaotic, slamming harsh industrial noise and synth dance rhythms into bluesy, raunchy rock before screeching back into radio-friendly pop, with the same damn-it-all attitude that made Doom a cult success.
The first single “How2Kill” sums up this plan of attack by seamlessly integrating bouncy synth melodies into a rough and rousing pop-punk anthem with gothic undertones. (You can play the entire song below.) But that's not the track that welcomes us to Positive Euth; that honor goes to "Bath Salt Party," and for all the horrific baggage that comes with that title, it's probably as fitting a name as I can hang on this short barrage of twisty high-range riffing and falsetto vocals chanting sex-and-death metaphors. It's goofy fun, but reveals little of what's to come; the band finds their first solid hook in the sleazy blues-rock shuffle and gang-shouted punk chants of "The Present," then channels darker energy for the chattering "Commit to Knife," with eerie harmonized vocals straining for release above wailing guitar chords and a guttural bass line.
That sensual vibe is put to better use in the powerful "Cinema Verité," which tears loose into a euphoric, up-tempo midsection and reveals the melodic integrity beneath the chaos. The band's horror-loving fans get what they crave in the creepy-crawly death rock anthem "Undead Eat Lead," which sports one of the album's coolest choruses. A slightly dissonant, distorted piano carries the anti-ballad "A Little Light Conversation," which may be less musically intense, but maintains the same urgency through the insistent rhythms and Osburn's soulful vocals, and there's a cool '80s gothic rock vibe to "Batdanse," with a sweet clicking and slapping guitar/bass riff combo. Lo-fi industrial noise, distorted vocal samples, screams and low, greasy monster riffs make “Blood Drive” the album's spookiest track, and a damn good fit for my next Halloween playlist – and I'd also have to include the vintage haunted-house organ & piano instrumental “Not if I See You First” in the same package. “Fingernail Marks” shifts the tone into alt-metal/grindcore mode, which is not particularly this band's comfort zone, but it does let them bring the unfiltered crazy. With that out of their system, they slip into a light horror-ska beat to bring home the theme of undead rebirth (both literally and creatively) in “Re-Animation,” which breaks into an uplifting chorus that ends the album on a surprisingly positive note.
After that final track, I realized that Osburn's term “positively undead” is a perfect summation: like a zombie virus, these songs are highly contagious and possibly lethal, and they'll keep you on edge anticipating their next unpredictable attack. DVH definitely embrace chaos – something sorely lacking in just about any genre – and while they occasionally lose the main thread, they somehow find a way to weave the whole thing back together in the end. For a demonstration of how they pull this off, here's the first single “How2Kill,” one of the strongest and tightest tracks on the record.