Up-and-coming French groove metal/metalcore band Pathfinders bring us their debut release Ares Vallis. Established in 2018 by brothers Jérémy (Bass) and Romain (Guitar) Gaucher with their friends Jérémy Barthélémy (Drums), Benjamin Daguet (Guitar), and Clément Levy (Vocals), they take their name from the NASA robotic spacecraft which first landed on Mars in 1997. Following suit with the inspiration for their name, Ares Vallis is named after a formation found on Mars, thought to have been made by water. The album is in the band’s own words “an album of us telling stories on adventures to and from Mars”, setting the scene with an intro track featuring a spoken voice with a space intercom effect, giving us a countdown into the landing of the second track.
As expected the lyrics match the concept too - single ‘Damned Earth’ refers to earth becoming uninhabitable and human civilisation looking to space to survive. Lyrics also touch on social issues, like ‘Pressure’ about societal pressure to conform and our actions being dictated by others. There are some really Interesting lyrical concepts explored but it is hard to make out the lyrics which is a shame for an album with a valuable message to it.
Clément Levy’s vocals are a very varied and ambitious mixture of harsh vocal styles and there are also some interesting vocal effects explored at the end of ‘Bad Guardians’. Whilst the vocals are strong and powerful in the lower/mid range, the higher pitch screams can sound somewhat strained at times. Also some of the moments where these higher pitched screams are used sound like they may be better suited to cleanly sung vocals e.g. on ‘The Light’ as this is a slower, less heavy song. Clean vocals are only used on the final track ‘Peste Noire’, but these are effective and help to bring out the softer moments of the track.
Pathfinders’ overall sound is a blend of groove metal in the vein of Lamb of God, environmentally and socially conscious metalcore in the vein of Architects, with a few other influences blended in such as elements of djent, melodeath and thrash. Highlights include ‘Evolution’, ‘Precious Star’ and ‘Ghosts of Mars’, all have catchy moments and the bass on ‘Annihilate them all’ is very groovy and satisfying.
For all its enjoyable riffs and grooves, the run time of Ares Vallis is a little long, and it does get a bit stale after a while as their sound doesn’t really push the boundaries much with the exception of a few moments such as the closing track which is a little more progressive sounding. If you aren’t already a fan of the genre it is unlikely this album will convert you, but there is some enjoyment to be found for those who are into groove metal and metalcore anyway. For a debut release it is a promising start though and it will be interesting to see how Pathfinders will progress in releases to come.
Would recommend for fans of: Lamb of God, Chimaira, Parkway Drive, In Flames, Architects