Vallenfyre Discusses Old School Death Metal And New Album "The Fragile King"
Featuring members of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, the newly formed Vallenfyre is taking death metal back to the days of old when tape trading was king and flawless productions weren't on the menu. The band's debut full-length offering will be "The Fragile King," an album originally conceived while front man Gregor Mackintosh was writing lyrics after the passing of his father.
I had the chance to speak with Gregor about the album to get his view on the formation of the band, composed of friends who have played together in various groups in the past, and to hear his thoughts on writing and recording the album.
In the full interview below Gregor discusses the way the death metal community handles lyrics about actual deaths instead of over-the-top tales of gore, as well as Vallenfyre's attempts to create a sound that transports the audience back to the early days of death metal.
xFiruath: Can you tell me about the events leading up to the formation of the band and how everyone knew each other?
Gregor: I’ll start with how we know each other. Adrian, the drummer of Vallenfyre, is also the drummer for the band Paradise Lost. I’ve known him for quite a long time, because the European death metal scene a long time ago was quite small and everyone knew each other and traded tapes. It was a little bit incestuous at times because everyone knew each other. Scoot, the bass player, he played in Doom and Extinction of Mankind. He was my roommate back 20 years ago, he shared a house with me. We’ve remained friends since then and I couldn’t think of anyone else to do it when the idea to do this band came up. Hamish, the lead guitarist, he’s another old friend and he’s in My Dying Bride, which was kind of the same genre as Paradise Lost. He’s my drinking buddy and we go out drinking. Mully, the other guitarist in the band, every Thursday night we go listen to old metal and get drunk and we’re all friends so it kind of easy to choose these people.
We hadn’t really planned to start a band, but I was writing lyrics, which weren’t really lyrics. My dad died at the end of 2009 and my brothers and myself went to grief counseling. They told us to write things down about our feelings and whatever. I started to write things down and they turned into lyrics. At the same time I was trying out old demos and just decided to turn them into songs, like old school songs because I didn’t feel that anyone was doing it the right way. I needed an old school band, so I just kind of wanted to blend it together and gradually it became a band. I did a demo and got the attention of a friend of mine who works for Century Media in Germany and he said I should put out a record. Since January of 2010 when I started writing the lyrics to about April of 2011 when we finished recording, it was kind of a gradual process.
xFiruath: Where was recording handled for the album?
Gregor: Well we wanted to kind of do it DIY and we didn’t want it to sound too polished, so we did it. We have a sound engineer friend who is the live sound engineer for Paradise Lost, but he also works in studios and we went to a house and did it. We had to work around everyone’s schedules because they’re busy with their bands. So we’d go down to his place and record parts and then we went to a place called Parlour Studios and worked with Russ Russel, who works with Napalm Death a lot, and he mixed it for us. It was recorded in bits and pieces, two days here and two days there.
xFiruath: It seems like Vallenfyre is headed in a very different direction than any of your other bands. What sort of sounds did you want to explore with this album?
Gregor: The main subject is that we’re trying to play it like a proper old school death metal band in the production and the song writing and most elements of it. We also incorporate a lot of other elements we grew up with like the crust punk scene, the doom scene, and like the grind scene. We wanted to make it something that instantly transports us back to ’86 or ’87. Apart from that there wasn’t really a big plan behind it, it was just to get that sound really. We didn’t want to spend too long analyzing guitars or anything, because I think death metal these days is just a bit too perfect. In my day death metal was meant to be messy and noisy, and it’s all become a bit technical for me. As far as how it’s different from what we’ve done in the past, it’s not that different from our various bands, it’s just a mixture of them all. Old Paradise Lost, old My Dying Bride, old At The Gates, it’s a blending of all those things I guess.
xFiruath: You had mentioned before that you started writing this album because your dad passed away. Is that a constant theme throughout the entire album, and what sort of reaction or emotional response are you hoping to get from your audience?
Gregor: It’s kind of a continuous theme, I guess about 60 or 70% of the lyrics deal with that subject. I’m not looking for any reaction really, it started off as a therapy and it turned to more of a tribute. I’ve been kind of shocked in a couple of interviews because the death metal community is slightly unsure about lyrics about real death. You know it’s kind of fine to talk about ripping the entrails from a corpse, but you talk about real death and people get a little bit strange. So for me, when I wrote these words it wasn’t necessarily with songs in mind or to be released, and now that it is going to be released I’m quite comfortable with it because, it’s something that will happen to everyone. I don’t understand the big to-do about it. It’s better to talk about it than to not talk about it.
xFiruath: Will this be a studio only thing or are you going out on the road with the new album?
Gregor: The plan is to play live, it would be a shame not to play this live. We’re all geared up for playing live, but there are other projects on the table we have to take care of. It will be next year when we start playing live. We want to do club shows and some festivals in Europe, but my dream is to get over to America and play it over there. I think there’s kind of a bigger audience for it over there in a way. The European death metal scene didn’t hit as big the first time around over there, and I think a lot of people didn’t get to see the bands they wanted to see. I think with a band like Vallenfyre, we’ll be recreating that a bit.
xFiruath: What music were you listening to while writing this and what are you playing these days?
Gregor: I’ve been listening to a lot of the old school stuff like Repulsion, Autopsy, early Napalm, Nihilist, Carnage, stuff like that. Early Candlemass and stuff like Amebix. A lot of the old stuff, but then I try to check out the newer bands. Some of its pretty cool, but some of its not. From the death metal side, things are very stagnant these days and I don’t think there’s anything good coming out. Extreme music itself, there’s some really cool bands like Trap Them. An American band called Nails. There’s new bands coming out that aren’t strictly death metal and are quite good. I try to keep ahead of the game and see what’s coming out. I think the difference between the old scene and the new scene is that in the old scene there were a handful of bands in each little sub-genre. Like in death metal there was five or ten bands, the same thing in the grind scene. All these bands knew each other, and traded demos, and gigged together. I think these days it’s a lot easier for a band to get heard, but there’s so much that’s it hard to filter through and find the good stuff. I make a concerted effort to stay on top of it but it’s difficult with so much stuff to hear.
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