(DGR prepared this review of the third, and reportedly final, album of a consistent favorite of our site — Vallenfyre.)
In what will likely be the understatement of the year, you could easily say that Vallenfyre’s career has been one intertwined with death.
At face value, they’re a death metal band. Two out of their three album covers have prominently featured skulls, Vallenfyre’s genesis story is rooted in a tribute to founder Gregor Mackintosh’s father after he had passed, and the musicians who have taken part in the project have been death and doom metal luminaries — including longtime guitarist Hamish Glencross, formerly of My Dying Bride.
If you wanted to be reductive you could say that Vallenfyre have started to sound a lot like the groove-heavy side of Napalm Death, and now we’re faced with the prospect of the “death” of the band itself with Gregor giving interviews saying that he views the Vallenfyre releases as a trilogy and would be happy to leave it there.
The group’s latest release Fear Those Who Fear Him — now a little over a month old — is the cap of that trilogy of discs, in which a band started out good and the music slowly got uglier, heavier, and much more low-end prominent. They’re a band who’ve specialized in sounding like the two parts that Vallenfyre have been constructed out of — the death metal segment that has long been a rich vein to mine, partially fueled by the meathead whump-whump-whump march of a light Swede-death influence, and the low-and-slow crawling misery of doom that has been an English specialty since the days of people trying to out-heavy Sabbath.
Fear Those Who Fear Him, with its predisposition toward death, reflects that duality of construction materials, largely consisting of those two moods and jumping between them at key points in the album. Despite being the group’s third disc, it may also be the most focused and laser-sighted heavy of the three.
Fear Those Who Fear Him switches moods continuously, but never leaving the dredging of the sewers behind. In genre terms, Fear Those Who Fear Him has movements where you can tell whether it is in death metal mode, or the doom dirge. Just by glancing at track times without listening, you can probably guess which points are which on this disc — with songs like “An Apathetic Grave” reaching toward the five-minute mark and then other songs staying firmly between a minute and two-and-a-half.
In fact, the phrase Fear Those Who Fear Him is uttered at two points on the album, once heavily distorted and drawn out in its intro and then much more clearly during the album’s penultimate song “Cursed From The Womb”, which happens to be one of the inhuman doom crawlers.
Fear Those Who Fear Him breaks up its large death metal blocks with the slower songs, hence the observation that it moves in two cycles. It’ll have a large batch of shorter death metal songs — which can come out to total about six or seven minutes of music between them — and then a huge slow song just to sum it all up. The album’s opening segment of its intro ‘Born To Decay’, ‘Messiah’, and ‘Degeneration’, are followed by “An Apathetic Grave”, which is the first really heavy dose of doom provided, including a slow and crawling chorus lead that snakes just behind the intonations of its title words.
“Nihilist”, on the other hand, feels like the answer to the question, “Just how gloriously dumb can we make a song?” — dropping one of the most obviously pit-riff-driven songwriting structures on the whole album. It follows “An Apathetic Grave” with a flurry of blasts and then it is off to the races with the aforementioned circling mechanisms spun up to max capacity.
The word Nihilist quickly becomes the dominant lyric in the whole affair, uttered over and over to the point where it becomes difficult to remember what else was ever said, and that word has become the circle-pit battle cry by the time it closes out its almost two minutes with you.
In fact, “Nihilist” leads off a block of songs that appeal to the caveman side of the brain — just big, stupid pile-driving riffs piled on top of each other and never lasting long enough for you to realize that your IQ is falling at a rapid pace. It echoes the first segment of the album, with “Amongst The Filth” feeling like the death ‘n’ roll twin of “Degeneration” earlier on.
The song following that one-two punch though, is probably the most “punk” song on the disc. “Kill All Your Masters” is a lightning-fast, near-grindcore track (not the most grindy though — that honor belongs to “Dead World Breathes”, with its length of forty seconds). It has drummer Waltteri Väyrynen annihilating the kit with quick blasts to close out each couple of measures on top of buttressing a massive double-bass groove that is almost criminally short about halfway through the song — jettisoned in favor of an oft-repeated Kill All Your Masters yell.
The only oddball amongst the tracks on Fear Those Who Fear Him is album closer “Temple Of Rats”, which largely comes from its placement as the closer for the whole affair. It brings the disc home and caps it off at close to forty minutes total, but it suffers a bit for following that third sewage monster, “Cursed From The Womb”. “Cursed” moves slowly, intentionally so; it sounds like it was recorded in an abysmally empty room, every instrument echoing off the wall, each cymbal hit catastrophic.
“Temple Of Rats”, on the other hand, could’ve easily sat in front of it and really solidified the final death metal block of Fear Those Who Fear Him. It’s a three-minute chugger of a song, one final bit of death metal driven by a gargantuan riff in its opening before becoming the last pit of circle-pit goodness on the disc — but “Cursed From The Womb” is a hard, miserable act to follow, and I don’t envy its job of having to do so on Fear Those.
The unspoken underlying theme of Fear Those Who Fear Him is that the guys comprising Vallenfyre are old hats and have been around the death and doom scene (quite successfully too) for some time now, and therefore have some expertise in how to take those building blocks and construct a solid fortification. A solid fortification, though, is still recognizable for what it is.
We know what a solidly built conventional castle looks like, and Vallenfyre have built themselves a consistently good, conventionally heavy disc in Fear Those Who Fear Him — continuing down a path that they leaped upon headlong when they put out their second disc Splinters. You can recognize every element that has gone into the album, and you’ll know that the Vallenfyre crew aren’t aiming to break boundaries on the disc. What they have done, though, is taken very recognizable construction materials and erected their edifice within familiar boundaries, fashioning a solid and thick album, full of great songs and purpose-built for headbanging.
Yes, they’ve made a career in misery and death, but you can’t help rocking the fuck out at multiple points during the death metal segments of Fear Those Who Fear Him, or just letting yourself get overwhelmed by the comfort food of a Paradise Lost gentleman and friends really dooming it up for seven-minute chunks at a time.
Although bands tend to die comic book deaths, returning after a few short years, if the Vallenfyre crew were to hang it up for a bit, Fear Those Who Fear Him is a great album to go out on.
Fear Those Who Fear Him is out now on the Century Media label.
For me, Vallenfyre has been more potential denied than potential fulfilled. All three albums are fine but given those involved, I find myself always wanting a little more.
While this one is probably my least favorite of the three, I’ve really enjoyed all their albums. Bummed that this experiment has come to an end.