“VALLENFYRE was something I felt utterly compelled to do. It was almost like I didn’t have a choice. I was told by a bereavement counselor that I should write down and vocalize my feelings. I did just that and then everything just seemed to take a natural course,” is how Greg Mackintosh (vocals/lead guitars), best known as a founding member of long-running UK gothic metal pioneers PARADISE LOST, describes the initial spark helping him to transform the anger and sadness ensuing the loss of his father into the death/doom/crust opus ‘A Fragile King’ (2011). While being the main songwriter in PARADISE LOST, Greg also stepped up to being the front-man for VALLENFYRE — and sang for the first time, citing Karl Willetts (Bolt Thrower), Chuck Schuldiner (Death), Oscar Garcia (Nausea, Terrorizer), Pete Steele (Carnivore, Type O Negative) as influences. ‘A Fragile King’ turned out to be a heartfelt, cathartic and therapeutic release, which now finds it continuation on the even more abrasive and extreme second full-length, ‘Splinters’.
“The response to ‘A Fragile King’ was way better than we could have imagined. Just the way that people seemed to really understand the sentiment that spawned the record meant a lot to me”, Greg explains, “and we wanted to develop the sound and songs more to take it from the straight up homage to our youth on the debut to something with its own identity. Last of all it’s a lot of fun for us to do. We had such a blast doing the first record and the gigs that followed that we really wanted to experience that again.”
Inspired by the likes of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Autopsy, Antisect, Discharge, Nihilist, early Napalm Death, early Bathory, and Conflict, VALLENFYRE digs deep into the roots of extreme music, yet due to Greg’s infallible song-writing skills, as well as the organic and absolutely crushing sound courtesy of Kurt Ballou (Converge, Black Breath, Beastmilk), ‘Splinters’ is far away from mere nostalgia. According to Greg: “I liked a lot of stuff Kurt had done over the last few years. His ethos and approach to recording is the perfect antidote to the trend of production within extreme music of the last few years, which is to make things too perfect and missing the point that feel is key. Recording ‘Splinters’ reminded me a lot of when I recorded music back in the day. We tried out and daisy chained many pedals and amps until we came up with the ideal tone that further developed the HM2-sound from the debut. It had to be blistering on the fast stuff and really take your breath away on the slow stuff. ‘Splinters’ was all done in one session with us all together living in one house. Because of various restraints, the first record had to be done over the course of a couple of months in little blocks. It was great to just be around each other throwing in ideas.”
Musically, this approach transpires in an increased amount of diversity and dynamics throughout the course of the album, from short sharp shocks reminiscent of raging 80’s grindcore (“Instinct Slaughter”, “Cattle”), to oppressive doom monsters (“Bereft”, “Splinters”) that are garnered with Greg’s trademark wailing and melodic leads, to uncompromising death metal (“Odious Bliss”, “Scabs”). He comments: “It was a conscious decision to become more extreme in every way. We wanted to try to push the boundaries of filth, anger, grimness. The doom stuff is really fucking miserable and we did decide to have some sections of grindcore in its rawest form.”
Referring to traditional underground art, the simple yet striking cover by Brian D’Agosta (who previously drew a logo for VALLENFYRE bassist Scoot’s other band, Extinction Of Mankind) emphasizes the fact that even if the immediate depression causing ‘A Fragile King’ was not the primary source for ‘Splinters’, it still remains a much darker, even more pissed-off record that still touches on the central topic of grief. “It has more to do with how grief affects people over time,” comments Greg. “It started about a family being fragmented by loss, but then evolved into how everyone is just a splinter of society, and we all die alone. Also, there is a lot of intolerance on this album. Sometimes the human race just makes me despair. From governments to religion to just how you treat your fellow man. I have become way less tolerant to certain sections of society, certain attitudes and acts, and things that go on in life. Life is fleeting and I have no time for anyone or anything that doesn’t respect or act on that.”
Apart from all its sonic and lyrical gloom, VALLENFYRE’s effect on PARADISE LOST is rather positive, allowing Greg to get a “clearer idea of the identity of both bands” and giving him an outlet for his passionate love of death/doom/crust, without the pressure connected to an internationally successful act like PL. Sure, he is eager to also take things further with VALLENFYRE live, do more festival shows and even small tours, but it is the initial moment, the emotion that is quintessential for the honesty characterizing the band. “That single, huge event in my life was the thing that made me realize that it’s great to think about things, but it’s even better to put those thoughts into actions.” If ‘A Fragile King’ was a tribute to his father, John Mackintosh, ‘Splinters’ shows the son living on, despite all of the grim irony that life has in store for each one of us.