Vallenfyre started as a way for Greg Mackintosh, lead guitarist and songwriter of doom/gothic metal pioneers Paradise Lost, to deal with the anger and sadness of losing his father. A Fragile King, their first release, , was a compelling piece of music, with a lot of emotional and musical depth and a surprisingly strong vocal performance from Greg. It was hailed as a death/doom triumph, and gained the band some recognition. Splinters, their follow-up album, continues with the sounds found on A Fragile King, but also goes further.
In Splinters, Vallenfyre have chosen not to remain in one place, incorporating sounds from all corners of extreme music, from grindcore and crust punk, to death and black metal. What I find impressive about Splinters is that all of the different sounds and influences are woven together absolutely seamlessly, thanks in no small part to Greg’s songwriting abilities, as well as to his clear vision of what he wants to accomplish with the band. Take “Scabs”, the opening track, for example; it starts things off with a guitar feedback followed by drums and bass that come in to pound the listener with a colossal slab of doom metal, albeit with a melodic edge that wouldn’t sound too out of place in any of the early releases by Paradise Lost. The song is then thrown into crust punk territory, complete with a driving d-beat and rumbling death growls, with vocals that are very similar to the tone and quality of Peter Tagtren, particularly his work with Bloodbath. This is a trend that continues throughout the album, with plenty of sudden changes in speed and direction, always done in a manner that feels natural and organic. The guitar tone on all of the songs is super fuzzed out, giving the music a bit of a Swedish death metal vibe, along the lines of Entombed, Dismember, and Grave; the drums are loud and relentless, and the bass rumbles underneath with plenty of overdrive in its tone as well.
While there are some great melodic moments and some fantastic lead guitar work, the brunt of the riffs are punishing and abrasive in their execution, and there are few producers as proficient at capturing all of this as well as Kurt Ballou. The performances are expertly captured with little or no tampering, and Vallenfyre really laid down the thunder here; you get the sense that everyone is having a blast, and were at ease with each other in the studio. My only concern with the finished product is the distortion on the guitars and bass; while I like the fuzzy quality of the Boss HM-2 pedal to an extent, it can sound a bit scratchy, and can get really muddy at times, which causes a bit of distortion in sound quality. This is an issue I’ve had with that particular distortion tone for a while though, and isn’t exclusive to Vallenfyre, or the production..
Splinters is a record that has a little something for everybody that is into extreme metal; there are melancholy tones with glacially paced doom riffs, pulverizing low end thrash fests for the death and black metal fans, and d-beats galore for the crust punk/crossover crowd. Greg and company have crafted another excellent record that builds on and pays homage to extreme metal, past and present, while also moving forward. Thisis a must have for any fan of extreme metal, and is hopefully indicative of things to come from Vallenfyre.