I love and follow this band since 2016. I really loved their first steps with their first three albums. After listening to "Valley of the Shepherd", I came to the conclusion that the first three records were made by boys. "Valley of the Shepherd" is an album made by mature men, musically and personally. How you can hear this? Just answer the question: "How to compose a heavy and light music? How to create a certain tension and dynamics within a song?" "I transfer a instrumental rock band into a part of a symphonic orchestra without taking the power out of the band" That´s what happened to Ephedra when they collaborated with Mirjam Skal, a Swiss composer and orchestra arranger.
Yes, and suddenly a riff- and hook-based instrumental band turns into band for a movie soundtrack.
Okay, Long Distance Calling do this since 15 years, so actually it isn´t new what Ephedra does now. The clear difference between these two bands is the ease and the floating heavy music and arrangement by Ephedra. The quote "You can put a guy out of his homeland, but you can´t put out the homeland of the guy" fits perfectly to Ephedra - and also to their compatriots of Eluveitie: both bands create music which reflects the Swiss mountains and landscapes.
Oh, I almost forgot to write about the songs, sorry for this.
The intro "Into the Valley" represents a kind of sound collage with a heathen touch, perfectly to introduce to the mood and ambience which await the listener.
The title track starts after a mantra-like and repetitive riff, travels through more heavy riffing section, overlapped by spheric sounds and light violins, which leads through a more traditional rocking part and ends abruptly with a orchestral arrangement.
"Ritual of Meadows" starts like a pagan rock track with flutes, decent drums, just to tear down this fragile construction of ease and lightness. Some key and sound changes lead to rocking part and the flute and the acoustic guitar end the song. Very beautiful and unpredictable song which leads directly to "Night of the Hunters" which spreads a darker and threatening atmosphere due the halftones used in some parts. This song is really an acoustic trip through different moods and finally the band speeds up, oh no, again, they did something unexpected to finish this song.
"Farewell Good Old Boy" is more Postrock than the preceded songs, it could also be a part of a Café del Mar-Sampler, an almost danceable song with a fantastic hook-line, same as "Dirty Wool". Both are fantastic songs.
"Sheep Shanonen" sounds like this sheep is the most badass sheep in the herd and it´s up to now the only old-school Ephedra song on this record. "Sheep Smoker" sounds like and was composed like a homage to Karma to Burn.
Up to now it´s pure pleasure to listen to this record, no boring minute, no note too much.
"Hiddensheep Hole" is the last song of the "sheep part" of the record, obviously the shepherd found all his sheep and
"Backflash" represents the relaxed shepherd´s review of his day in the "Valley of the Shepherd", actually this song is the movie credits.
I have to admit that I´m completely into the "new" Ephedra and their trademark songs on this album are okay compared to the orchestral songs. I guess it was a brave step towards new musical and artistic horizons. In my opinion Ephedra could have been even bolder and given this record an entirely orchestral touch. It´s a fantastic record.