Anyone who’s been reading NO CLEAN SINGING over the last two months knows how pumped we are for the release of the debut album, A Fragile King, by Vallenfyre. Hell, we got very excited before we knew who was in this band or how they came together, just based on hearing pieces of two songs the band had released on a 7-inch single — which apparently was sufficient to land them a record contract with Century Media. Sharp ears, those Century Media folks have.
Once we found out who was in Vallenfyre, our excitement grew. The band was started by Greg Mackintosh, whose name you will recognize as the long-standing guitarist and a co-founding member of Paradise Lost. He wrote Vallenfyre’s music and the lyrics and called together a group of friends to fill out this band — and they happen to be top-shelf musicians too: Hamish Glencross (My Dying Bride) – Rhythm and Lead Guitars; Mully – Rhythm Guitars; Scoot (Doom, Extinction of Mankind) – Bass; and Adrian Erlandsson (At the Gates, Paradise Lost) – Drums.
Many albums are inspired by the songwriter’s personal experiences, but A Fragile King is a more personal creation than most. The music and the lyrics were largely the result of Greg Mackintosh’s effort to work through the grief he experienced over the death of his father John from cancer. It’s an album that’s in part a reflection of the anguish and the anger he felt, in part a tribute to his dad, and in part a re-connecting to the kind of metal he loved in younger and happier days — a voyage back in time to a place of refuge and comfort.
As you’ll see in the interview, some of the songs focus on other beliefs and emotions, but what they all seem to have in common is an intensity of feeling about the subject matter, born at a time when emotions must have been very near the surface. That intensity and emotional power come through in the music.
What also comes through in the music is a faithful channeling of a particular style of old-school European death-doom. It’s a style of music that by sheer coincidence we’ve been exploring recently here at NCS. As Greg has sensed, and sensed accurately, I think there’s a hunger for this kind of primal music among serious fans of underground metal, particularly in the U.S., and Vallenfyre have created something that feeds that hunger quite satisfyingly. In one sense, it’s a throwback, but when you hear the Vallenfyre songs, I think you’ll also find that it sounds vibrant and new.
One word of explanation about the interview that follows: I did this with Greg Mackintosh by e-mail, and I wrote my questions to him before Hails and Horns began an exclusive stream of the album, coupled with an interview of their own (go check out that shit HERE). So, I hadn’t heard the whole album or seen his previous interview answers before formulating my own questions. Still, I think you’ll see some things in this interview you won’t see elsewhere. There are also some references in the interview to a video preview. To see what that’s about, check this earlier NCS post.
One thing you’ll notice from the interview is this: Vallenfyre would love to come to North America for a tour. But that will happen only if promoters believe that it makes economic sense. Now, I don’t have any special insight into the way these things work, but I’m pretty sure that tours like this become reality only when promoters and labels and bands become convinced that there will be demand for tickets — that metal-headed bodies will shell out money and fill up clubs.
So, if you were one of the people trying to gauge the demand for a Vallenfyre tour, what would you do? I think you’d look at album sales, Facebook likes, and other indicia of enthusiasm for the music and excitement about the band. So, the point is this: If you like this music, if you’d like to see this band wrecking clubs on our own continent, then all you Americans and Canadians who may be reading these words, do this: buy the fucking album here (instead of ripping it off some torrent site), go like Vallenfyre on Facebook (here), and spread the word to your friends, too.
OK, I’m off my soapbox now. Here’s the interview.
GREG MACKINTOSH INTERVIEW
NCS: Thanks very much for making the time to “talk” with me. As you may know, our site leaped on the Vallenfyre bandwagon as soon as word surfaced about the band’s signing with Century Media and we heard excerpts from the songs on the seven-inch single, so this chance to pester you with questions is exciting.
GM: No problem. I did notice that your site was one of the first to pick up on Vallenfyre and I thank you for that.
NCS: You’ve been quite open in explaining that you created Vallenfyre’s music as a way of dealing with the death of your father John. I don’t suppose one ever fully comes to terms with a loss such as that, but do you feel that the process of writing and recording the music helped you? And if so, how did it help you?
GM: Initially writing down feelings of grief was better than bottling it up and many of the things I wrote eventually turned into lyrics. This form of therapy only lasted so long however before the act itself became depressing. That’s when I hit on the idea of turning it into a real band with friends so as to make it fun to do. This turned out to be a revelation. Having my mates with me whilst knocking the album into shape and recording it was a great joy and really did take something very sad and make it very positive and productive.
NCS: Do you remember which of the songs you wrote first, in the time closest to your dad’s passing?
GM: Lyrically there is no first song really as the first part of any of the lyrics were passages that ended up in several different songs. Musically it was a similar sort of thing. I had quite a few riffs and some made it into songs and others didn’t.
NCS: As the early songs developed, did you start by writing lyrics or by playing music?
GM: At the start, it was lyrics first but as I progressed it became the other way around. There was actually no big plan behind it and at the time I had no idea it would become an album so I was just trying to have fun with it.
NCS: Your father sounds like he was a rare man, the kind of father who would support his son pursuing the kind of “extreme” music that you began to pursue. I know more musicians who have to fight their parents to do that! Was he actually into metal himself, or was it more simply a matter of supporting his son?
GM: He liked rock music but his understanding of metal music came more through me. He was very interested in how things worked and how things came to be and this mindset probably had something to do with why he was always very curious and full of questions about where we were playing and who with. In the latter years I used to video call him from a venue or a studio so he could see what was going on.
NCS: I would have thought that Paradise Lost could have provided the vehicle you needed to express your emotions about your dad’s death — maybe even a more natural vehicle. What was it that turned you to the heavier, crustier, old-school death-doom style that seems to characterize Vallenfyre’s sound (at least based on what I’ve heard so far)? It seems harsher and angrier, to me. Of course, anger is one of “the stages of grief”.
GM: You said it there. I had a lot of anger which was probably somewhat responsible, but mainly it was a comfort thing. This kind of music was the first music I loved and it never left me. I think I just needed to feel like I did when I was a kid again and only this music has the power to do that for me. Paradise Lost’s music is more sophisticated and grown up, and that isn’t what I needed to do at that moment.
NCS: I’m hampered in developing the next few questions here because I haven’t yet heard anything but what’s on the seven-inch single and the short passages from “Cathedrals of Dread” that are in the video preview for the album, and I haven’t seen lyrics, so please bear with me. You said in the video preview that some of the themes on the album deal with the tendencies of religion to turn people into sheep, to make them pliable to the dictates of other people rather than thinking freely for themselves. Was there a connection between those thoughts and what you were feeling about the death of your dad?
GM: I have always abhorred religion. I get very angry about it so it was an easy subject for me. Having said that, while my Dad was ill, I found that I actually envied people who had faith because they had this safety mechanism to deal with death. It’s at those moments you realize why religion began. It’s still fucked up though.
NCS: Which of the songs deal most directly with the vices of religion?
GM: Well “Cathedrals of Dread”, “As the World Collapses”, and “A Thousand Martyrs” are the main three. “Cathedrals” is a straight forward rant really. “As the World Collapses” is more to do with the horrors that religion has forced upon the world and how I see the consequences. “A Thousand Martyrs” sprang from a one-off event when a priest at the hospice my Dad was in was going from bed to bed every day really kind of harrassing these poor dying people into accepting christ. It really confirmed to me that these bastards are calculating people who pray on the vulnerable.
NCS: What other themes do songs on the album address?
GM: “Ravenous Whore” is about a woman I knew who is insanely greedy, driven by consumerism and the need to suck the life out of people. She was only happy when others were miserable. “Humanity Wept” deals with the fact that huge corporations are intrinsically linked to politics and government and how the rich get richer at the expense of the most vulnerable. “My Black Siberia” carries on this premise into the future where these greedy pigs have turned the world into a wasteland and there has to be retribution.
NCS: Will the tracks on the seven-inch appear in their original form on the album, or were they re-recorded?
GM: All of it was recorded together. “Desecration” from the 7″ will appear on the album but “Iconoclast” will only ever be available on the 7″.
NCS: Vallenfyre includes many talented people. To what extent did your bandmates contribute to the song-writing on the album, or was this your creation alone?
GM: It was pretty much my creation. Probably about 75% was already written before I got everyone else on board and the other 25% I did whilst bouncing my ideas off the other guys.
NCS: Did all the other members of the band participate in the recording of the album?
GS: Absolutely. It was a lot of fun to do. We recorded the majority of it at a friend of ours house who is a sound engineer. The drums, vocals, and mix were done at Parlour studios, mixed and mastered by Russ Russell. All the guys brought something to the table. Adrian did a killer job with the drums and Scoot added some real dirt to it with his bass playing style.
NCS: Because this project began for you as a form of catharsis for a very personal loss and the music is so connected to that event and those feelings, how do you foresee the music changing (if at all) as Vallenfyre moves forward? Will you need to find some new inspiration?
GM: I haven’t thought that far ahead. I have no plans for a follow up. If in a couple of years time we felt inspired and it was still fun to do then maybe. The lyrical matter would obviously be different, but I can’t see that the music would be any nicer. I don’t like to plan though. It’s too depressing. You never know what’s around the corner.
NCS: Speaking of moving forward, you’ve said elsewhere that Vallenfyre plans to perform live in 2012, but I’m sure Paradise Lost will have its own commitments (e.g., UK’s Hammerfest next March and Wacken and Bloodstock next August). Have you worked out how to juggle tour and performance commitments so that both bands can do shows? And can you give us any details on tour or festival appearances by Vallenfyre yet?
GM: We are all keeping track of what dates are clear to do gigs with Vallenfyre. We have been offered a couple of festivals and a couple of gigs so far. I guess it all depends on whether anyone likes the album when it comes out and if promoters want to book us.
We really want to do gigs in the States and Canada because while I have been doing interviews for Vallenfyre I’ve noticed that most people missed out on that first wave of European death/doom and there seems to be a real hunger for it now. In my opinion, Vallenfyre would be the perfect band to bridge that gap.
NCS: I’m anxious to see the first Vallenfyre music video, the one for “Cathedrals of Dread”. I’ve seen snippets of it in the video preview that came out recently. What’s the visual story that accompanies the song?
GM: It is taking the sheep mentality of religion a step further. Kind of a more black and white and more visceral version of the lyrical content of the song.
NCS: Well, thank you so much for making time for this, and best of luck with the album, and with all other things life may throw your way.
GM: Cheers mate