(In this post, NCS contributor KevinP interviews Hamish Glencross of Vallenfyre and My Dying Bride and along the way extracts a track-by-track commentary about the new Vallenfyre album — Splinters — which is scheduled for release by Century Media on May 12 in Europe and May 13 in North America.)
K: Ok, let’s get something clear right from the start. How close were you to convincing Gregor to change the name of the band to VallenPorn ‘stache??
H: Heh heh! Well, I wanted to keep the focus off the facial hair as much as possible as I could tell it would be a distraction, so I thought better of it. I was a little concerned people would think my dad had joined the band!
K: LOL, fair point. Papa Glencross. If I may ask, whats the genesis behind that thing in the first place?
H: Simply my daughter wanted me to grow a ‘stache. And if that’s the worst thing she’ll ever ask of me, I’d be doing ok.
K: Ah, the power of the little blokette in full force. I salute her skills.
H: She’s in total control.
K: Aren’t they all?
H: As they should be.
K: When Gregor put the band together prior to the first album, A Fragile King, he had about 75% of the material written. How, if anything, did that change going into this record?
H: This time around he forwarded stuff through to the rest of us as soon as he had something. It started with him sending over a couple of near-complete songs that he invited me to solo over and ruin, and then send them back and forth a couple of times. Then later he came over to my place armed with a few ideas, which I ruined a bit, and he left with some ideas that I had, which he took and made sense out of. A fair few songs later, a few tweaks here and there to the shape and sound of the songs (courtesy of all involved playing) and you end with a more unified beast of a record.
K: Splinters does feel like an album written more by a band, as compared to A Fragile King, where you get the sense it was written primarily by one person with a super-specific vision in mind.
H: It was a slightly different process this time, and yeah, one that gives the new album a further identity of its own, which was very important to us. There was a lot of discussion before even starting whether or not we should even do another album at all. Then the consensus was that if we did, we had to push the contrasts making it more extreme — the doom more doomy, the crust more crusty, etc.
K: Funny you say that, cause that’s exactly what you accomplished. The doom is doomier, the crust is crustier, it’s ‘catchier’ as well.
H: There is diversity, yeah. But that was totally the intention, so thank you.
K: Dare I say the new album isn’t as bleak. It’s still bleak overall, but maybe a few rays of sunshine sprouting through here and there.
H: A bit of light with the shade, maybe? I’m not sure where. Maybe you hear a bit of fun or enjoyment coming through in the playing. Maybe the bleakest parts of Bereft would make anything else sound happy.
K: I look at A Fragile King as a 100lb sledgehammer smashing you over the head repeatedly. While Splinters is like two 50lb hammers smashing you all over the body. The end result is the same, but the journey is much more varied, a far more roller-coaster type trip, but still both painful at the end of the day.
H: That’s a great analogy, and one we should use more! It has a more varied method of torture. Have you ever heard or read about the torture where a rat is caged onto someone’s chest?
K: No I have not.
H: So the only way out for the rat is to eat through the flesh of the victim. That always stuck with me.
K: Since I haven’t seen it mentioned before, I’m gonna ask. You had a lineup change between the last record and this one. What happened?
H: The pressures of trying to balance life and pursuing music is an ever increasing nightmare. It’s a total headache, and unfortunately the ever growing demand of Vallenfyre meant that Mully wasn’t able to continue. It’s a damn shame as he’s a wonderful guy who loves his music, but this new album was just the remaining four of us. His sick sense of humour is quite unique and shall be missed.
K: Mully did have a high quality “flavor saver”. Are you ready to take on that responsibility in the band now?
H: Flavour saver?!? Is that his continuing taste in quality underground music? If so, I’d struggle to take that place; I dropped behind a few years ago! I still follow the scene as much as I can, but not like I used to be able to.
K: Ah, you Brits are not up on American slang I see
H: Aha! I see! Heh heh! Well then, yes! His absence has resulted in my hirsuteness.
K: So is Gregor gonna do guitars and vocals for the live shows or do you have someone else planned to stand in?
H: We have Sam Wallace lined up and ready to go. He already played live with us at the Damnation festival last year when he was filling in on bass for Scoot, who was on tour with Doom at the time. He’s keen and a great player, plus we know him too — and that is very important for a band like this.
K: I want to go with you track by track through the new album.
(I Am the Bloody) Scabs starts off the album. I’d equate this song with Desecration off the debut. The most varied, up-tempo, doomy, probably the catchiest song on the album.
(you had to know I’d stick a reference in there. LOL)
H: Yeah, it’s a perfect starting point. It’s direct, it’s a statement of intent, and we knew that early on it would be the way we would want to introduce people to the new album. Hence in the studio, we made sure we got video footage of everyone recording that song so it could be used as a trailer for the album.
K: The next song, Bereft, is quite the opposite. You want to slash your wrists.
H: We knew there’d be a lot of noise on this album. Feedback, grind, and all manner of amp brutality, and that’s what brings in the second track. Scoot was concerned that this track sounded a little too like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride in some sick, twisted mutation. Clearly that didn’t concern us.
K: Maybe until the violins kick in at the end.
H: Violins?!? Where?! No violins here, but the guitars have a bit of that sound; the old half open wah. The slow grinding guitars of this song really showcase how amazing working with Kurt Ballou is and what an incredible arsenal of amps he has readily available.
K: Ouch, I feel like such a wanker now. Haha. Sounded like violins to me.
H: I can see how you’d think that, but this album is just the sound of four guys with two guitars, a bass, drums, and voice. (And awesome amps!)
K: Instinct Slaughter then kicks in. Who was listening to a little too much Terrorizer – World Downfall?
H: Heh heh! Total Terrorizer! I love how the album has three songs stitched together in the opening proceedings. It really gives the “live band in a room” vibe to me, and again working with Kurt at Godcity is the perfect match for that.
K: Next song Tom G Warrior is gonna be looking for a royalty check for (Odious Bliss). We had the pleasure of debuting that song here a few weeks ago.
H: Completely – Gregor sent this song through and I did wonder whether or not this was wearing our influences a little too obvious and proud. But it’s true, it acknowledges that and gives it more diversity. I loved checking out people’s reactions to it when NCS debuted it and can’t wait for people to hear more.
K: Savages Arise then makes you think the up-tempo train is gonna come to a halt, but after 20 seconds it ratchets it up with some crusty d-beats.
H: Ah yes! The Unspeakable Filth! Great song, and one of the first written for the album. It morphed slightly over time, but it’s still pretty much true to the first demo — when something’s right, it’s right. Adrian’s drums made it a bit more “fighty”, and I’d probably get hurt in a pit for this one!
K: Aghast is probably the closest you’ve come to going “funeral doom” except for the “punchy” mid section.
H: Yeah, I played Gregor and Scoot some riffs and drums whilst hungover on a Sunday morning trying to invoke a real broken down and destroyed vibe. Gregor brought some more discordance into the song to make it uglier, and fuck it’s ugly!
Again, total amplifier worship too. Serious quality vintage amps played loud and crushing.
K: The Wolves of Sin, I’m gonna put you on the spot, you tell us about this one (since I don’t have any witty remark to make, haha).
H: One of my favourites whilst the album was in demo stage because it was very immediate and rewarding and the solo has such a cool riff underneath it. I still love the song, but I think some others shone even more once they hit the studio. I look forward to checking out people’s reaction to it.
K: Which now leads us to Cattle, which is another crusty d-beat grind song, at least for 90 seconds. Then it feels like you deliberately say, ‘nah, you ain’t getting another 90 seconds of the same thing’ and turn on its head to a doomy mid-pace to finish it off.
H: Hey, I said the album had contrast! That can even apply to within the same song. And what a song. This was the first song I played to Sam once the album was done. I fucking love it. And the vulgarity of the riffs at the end just make me pull grimace faces. It took all my effort not to throw the guitar on the floor after playing it, the filthy beast.
K: The plodding riff of Dragged to Gehenna is so appropriate… feels like you are being pulled on a rope from the back of a horse through the desert… but then again the middle section changes things up before going back to the original riff to end the song.
H: Another of the very first songs written for the album, and much Celtic Frost worship going on again too. A good stomping song. Bring your biggest boots.
K: If people haven’t realized by now, you start to see how the album not only has a contrast overall, but within the songs themselves (as you said previously. Thanks for stealing ‘my thunder’). Yet they never feel disjointed, which is no easy feat to pull off.
H: Yeah, as much as contrast as possible was something we strived for. It wasn’t to be at the expense of coherence and I think we’ve managed to achieve that. There’s a bloodline throughout all of the differences.
K: Now we come to the 3rd and final grind song, Thirst For Extinction. I must admit, the riff at 57 seconds in has me ‘hardcore dancing’. But then it stops in its tracks and smashes you over the head.
H: A total last minute song. Gregor wrote it not long before we hit the studio so we had extra tracks. He was so focused and firing on all cylinders it turned out to be an album track. I was still learning the thing as we recorded it.
There’s a LOT of riffs on this album!
K: The title track (Splinters) closes the album. I guess it’s your “epic ditty”, with a 6+ minute runtime, and echoey guitar parts.
H: What a crushing song and a fitting way to close. I think this has some of the darkest moments on the entire album on it, and makes for a perfect closer and title track. There were a few album title choices flying around with arguments for and against each, but when Splinters was pulled (thank you, I’m here all week), it was the most obvious choice.
K: The one new song I haven’t heard yet, since its only available on the Decibel Flexi Series, is The Great Divide. Give us some insight on that one.
H: That’s a fast one; tremolo picking, brutal drumming from Adrian, rude notes, vulgar riffage. You’ll love it! It’s a song that can happily sit out on its own and fester in the limelight.
K: What attracted you to using Kurt Ballou as producer this time around?
H: His incredible production jobs where everything feels so alive and vital — there’s a real excitement and absolute quality of sounds that can only come from great gear in a great studio orchestrated by a great producer. We were blown away by the job he did on this album.
K: Before we end this, I have to ask the obligatory “what live shows have you lined up” question?
H: Not much yet. We’ve sadly had to turn down more shows than we’ve booked because of everyone’s busy schedules. So we’ve just got the Obscene Extreme fest coming up. We plan on going on a run of headline shows at the end of the year, but right now we have to wait and see what offers come in once the album is out.