The UK’s Vallenfyre are an ‘extreme metal’ offshoot of Paradise Lost‘s Gregor Mackintosh. “What started in late 2010 as a project by Paradise Lost guitarist Greg Mackintosh became a real band. The 2011 debut album A Fragile King was hailed as one of the best death metal albums of the year. The band took it even further in doom, death, and crust realms with the latest album Splinters, that was recorded and produced by Kurt Ballou (Converge, Black Breath, Beastmilk, etc.) in Salem, Massachusetts.”
Iris at PlanetMosh enjoyed Splinters immensely, and requested an interview with the band. Gregor obliged; he was generous with his time, and answered (a delighted) Iris’s questions candidly.
I: The first thing that struck me about Splinters is the guitar tone. You guys nailed that old-school Unleashed/Entombed vibe there. Who’s the ‘riff factory’ responsible for this? Or did each member write parts separately?
G: It’s kind of my baby, so the lion’s share of stuff is by me, but we were all discussing how the album should be from the beginning.
Everyone’s opinion was very important to get everyone’s personality on the record. The recording was also done in a very free manner, so that the nuances of everyone’s individual playing style shone through.
Since Splinters was more of a democratic writing process, how much influence did Adrian have on the sound? You and he are in Paradise Lost together, but he was also in some of Sweden’s first and second wave of death: At The Gates, Skitsystem, etc.
Adrian had as much say as everyone else. As you say, he has a rich history in this sort of music, as do we all, and it would be crazy not to tap into that. We also pushed him to drum certain songs on the fly, just to see what would happen, and it made for a much more spontaneous sounding record, I think.
How do you see these genres – like doom, grindcore, or death metal, evolving? You ought to know, since you were sort-of entrenched both during the first wave and now during the renaissance.
I think the golden era of these styles of music was in the eighties, from whence they came. It was an exciting time, and no one had ever heard a lot of these styles before. It’s always interesting to hear different takes on genres and mixing styles. But I think whatever way these styles progress, you can’t forget that the song comes first.
How many shows do you have planned to support Splinters? I saw something on your FB page that mentioned Adrian won’t be able to do all the shows. So that’s sort of a limit. Great that you’re coming to NYC though.
We plan to do as many shows as we can over the next year or so. We are planning to hopefully tour the States early next year. We already have German and UK tours booked, and we are getting great offers to go and tour in some other cool places. Adrian’s schedule will be crazy over this period with the new At the Gates, Haunted, and Paradise Lost albums coming out in the next 6 months. Therefore we will have a replacement drummer for live shows.
Should Vallenfyre be considered a spontaneous project (or collaboration) that got together to write 2 albums, or is this a full-fledged band? As in – you’ll try to get in to the album-tour cycle with the band and have it not be just studio or just live. I’m assuming Paradise Lost will always be out front, your first love and biggest project (band), right?
We never had a plan for Vallenfyre. It is something that we just go with the flow on. It is a fully fledged band, but we don’t want it to ever feel stale. So, when we did the first record, we had no plans to do another, it just sort of came together over time. We really enjoy doing it, and there is no pressure on us, so we will do gigs and tours if it feels right. We have no desire to tour our asses off and get bored of it. We want it to remain feeling special to us.
Of course, Paradise Lost is a huge part of my life, which I have been involved in for 26 years. We have been lucky enough to play it by our own rules for the most part, but Vallenfyre really helps me realize that there are still good people out there in music, who do it for the love of it.
How was (living and recording in) Salem, MA? Was there some culture shock between Salem and Halifax?
I thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn’t massively different to Halifax though. It was cold, and the bars were full of dickheads on the weekend. I was quite surprised that Americans are slowly learning to make decent ales though. We became hooked on the IPA’s there.
Your foundations are as a guitarist. Watching the EPK’s and videos – you without the guitar seemed… a little odd. How does that feel to transition to a new role in music?
Yeah, it was odd, just because I’m so used to being the guitarist. It’s a good challenge though. It makes me realize how easy vocalists have it, just turning up with no equipment and getting drunk.
I really enjoyed your “creepy short movie” done for the “Splinters” track, because to me, it was very easy to interpret. A lot of the elements resonated easily – especially faceless indifference from the medical community, and how suffering was so intense, visceral, individual, and “encased”. Very well done. What was the writing & direction process like for that?
Well, I was told how much the budget would be, and I figured we could either find a low budget, metal, video director who would take most of the budget for himself and just shoot us headbanging in a warehouse, or I could come up with a great concept, and try to do it without outside influence.
The concept came from a dream I had that was so vivid I had to write it down. Then I contacted my younger brother, who trained in photography and graphic design, to see if he wanted to collaborate on the project. He said yes, and we had split duties. He did the storyboards, scene arrangements, and photography. I did the video editing and all the post work. We both directed it; I produced it. We had a professional actor in the lead role. We really couldn’t have completed it to such a high standard without pulling favors and having great friends help us.
You mentioned that “Bereft” and “Splinters” are continuations of the grief theme begun with A Fragile King‘s central “epitaph” motif – more like how it plays out over time, how grief is integrated and accepted within the self. The album’s more “polarized” then A Fragile King though – you’ve accented some parts, but haven’t changed that killer tone!
Exactly. Those 2 songs in particular carry on that theme. Of the stages of grief, I never gained acceptance, and I’m sure many other people don’t, so I felt a need to discuss that. Most of the rest of the lyrics deal with various other matters that irk me.
One of your favorite tunes on Splinters is also my favorite – track four, “Odious Bliss”. At that point, I thought “they get it. They’ve nailed this.” The tune’s about “self medicating”? At what point was it written during the album’s production phase, how easy were the ideas to translate to notes, etc.?
People call that song “Frost worship”.
Yes, it’s very “Frosty”, and that’s because the early stuff has always been a big influence on me, and will continue to be.
It was written sort of towards the end of the writing process. Self medicating is something that has been quite prevalent in my life. It is written from a few different perspectives, but they all come to the same conclusion. We all need things to get us through life, even if they are self destructive.
You’ve touched on some of the things that irk you about humanity: war, organized religion, addiction. Vallenfyre is sort of your “angry metal guy” personality. What didn’t you address that bugs you? I’m not into politics – to me, it seems like “professional” (salaried) lying. This is your chance to vent – have at it!
I agree with you on politicians. They are, on the whole, spineless, morally corrupt individuals who do whatever the companies who back them tell them to regardless of death and suffering.
Organized religion is the same, essentially. I find all religion ludicrous. It should have been left in the middle ages, along with royalty.
People say “as long as they aren’t hurting anybody, it’s okay”, which is true to an extent, if they are referring to a handful of deluded individuals saying 10 Hail Mary’s in the comfort of their own home and not talking to anyone else about it. But unfortunately for every one person like that, there are a hundred who are bigoted, hateful, and believe they are better than others: these people DO hurt people in every conceivable way.
I could rant about various other things, but hey, I did all that in the lyrics.
Off-topic, what’s your favorite “UK” swear word? Something the American’s won’t “get” without some explanation. :)
My wife is from Philly, and one of her old friends was a DJ called DJ Knobhead. I was obviously highly amused, as this is a well worn turn of phrase in the UK for an idiot, politician, or theist.
It turned out, however, that myself and said DJ were the only ones in on the joke, as everyone else was just high giving him, thinking his actual name was Knobby.
OK, thanks so much for talking to us at PlanetMosh… Do you have any parting words for your fans or readers?
Yes. Come and see us in NYC this October. If you can’t make that, we should be back for a tour in Spring. Cheers!
Vallenfyre will be touring through Europe and the UK! (+1 USA date!) Here’s the full list of shows for remaining 2014 dates:
Vallenfyre with Bolt Thrower & Morgoth
30.09.2014 — Le Trabendo , Paris, France
01.10.2014 — Garage, Saarbruecken, Germany
02.10.2014 — Hellraiser, Leipzig, Germany
03.10.2014 — LKA Longhorn, Stuttgart, Germany
04.10.2014 — JUZ, Andernach, Germany
05.10.2014 — Muziekodroom, Hasselt, Belgium
Vallenfyre + support
06.10.2014 — Merleyn, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
07.10.2014 — Baroeg, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
09.10.2014 — Turock, Essen, Germany
10.10.2014 — MTC, Cologne, Germany
11.10.2014 — Kranhalle, Muenchen, Germany
12.10.2014 — Räucherkammer, Wiesbaden, Germany
13.10.2014 — Magnet, Berlin, Germany
15.10.2014 — Exchange, Bristol, UK
16.10.2014 — Talking Heads, Southampton, UK
18.10.2014 — Best Buy Theater, New York, USA*
20.10.2014 — Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton, UK
21.10.2014 — The Dome, London, UK
* Decibel 10th Anniversary Show w/ Amon Amarth & Sabaton