In the nearly forty years of thrash metal history, there have been a lot of changes to the sonic map. Aggression, Ferocity. Nihilism. Angst. Triumph. Agony. These are some of the ingredients that fueled our collective fires and stoked this furnace ever since. Fifteen years ago, there was a mini-movement of “neo-thrash” bands in love with the classic style and maybe marrying in a more late 80s crossover flavor as well. Newer bands were born, and while some died on the vine, other had come to rise. One such band is Black Fast, From the toughness of their St. Louis roots to their never compromising style, they have been trying to carve a truly original piece of the landscape for themselves. On their new album Spectre of Ruin (eOne), they have finally moved away from the pack.Continue reading
Born as an outlet for grief at the tragic passing of his father John Robert Mackintosh, Vallenfyre’s first album A Fragile King (Century Media) was Gregor Mackintosh’s way of coping with the horror of losing a parent to cancer. The resulting album saw Mackintosh returning to his roots melding a love of grindcore, crust punk and doom to frightening effect, all ably assisted by the likes of My Dying Bride’s Hamish Glencross, Doom/Extinction of Mankind bassist Scoot, Paradise Lost band mate Adrian Earlandsson and hometown pal Mully on guitar. Fast forward three years, the band has been touring delivering many impressive performances, not least last years Damnation Festival in Leeds where they turned in a face melting performance. Ever the busy man, Gregor was taking time out writing for the new Paradise Lost record when Ghost Cult caught up with the amiable Yorkshireman to talk about coping with loss, addiction and new album Splinters.
Due to commitments with their other projects, there was some doubt over whether a new record was on the cards but one listen to the bleak and visceral follow-up should put paid to any idea of a sophomore slump. “I knew after the first record when we did a smattering of festivals and then left it. After I bumped into the rest of the guys we then talked about doing a second record. The whole point of doing this album is to better the first. I wanted everything to be bigger on this album. We wanted the shorter aggressive songs to be more violent and the doom parts to be more extreme. Everything is slower, faster and angrier. I think we have really tried to develop our own sound on this album rather than just turn out a retro sounding death metal record.”
Indeed while Vallenfyre’s music takes influence from acts like Bolt Thrower, the sound they have developed feels extremely fresh. Perhaps this can be attributed to the band’s core ethos of keeping the music full of groove and power without turning it into a pretentious technical workout. “I think there has been a bit of a void in modern death metal” Greg agreed. “There are some great musicians about but the songwriting is not there. You need hooks no matter what genre you are playing in. I wanted to bring the sounds of punk and death metal I grew up on into a modern setting. The process for writing “A Fragile King” was a really lonely one with me locked inside a room working. It was very difficult and only became enjoyable to do when the rest of the guys got involved. Splinters is a very spontaneous record with elements of all the other bands we are in. We have branched out. It’s almost like a mix tape, you have a six and a half-minute doom metal song followed by a minute of grindcore. We went into the studio and recorded naturally and kept the imperfections in. That’s why we chose Kurt Ballou as a producer as he’s not obsessed with perfection. He really captured our live sound.”
Speaking of uber-producer and Converge guitar player, Greg clearly has nothing but praise for Ballou’s methods. “We’d played some festivals with Converge and we got chatting and hit it off. It took a lot to get us over to Salem (Massachusetts) and I think Century Media were very trusting to let us do that. With Paradise Lost we are always planning everything, but with Vallenfyre we take each day as it comes.”
Splinters will indeed be a record which raises the bar in terms of expectations for this “Supergroup”. The thing that makes this feel so natural is you see how even a veteran metalhead like Greg still enjoys playing in a band with a bunch of friends (Mully is still lovingly referred to as “Mully from the pub”). Despite having to fit around the touring schedule of his main band, Glencross commitments to My Dying Bride and drummer Earlandsson will shortly be getting back into things with his old group At The Gates as there is increased demand for the band to perform more live shows. Thankfully it’s something that’s in the works. “It’s a nightmare to manage. We have a spreadsheet that shows our schedule and it’s rare that we all have the same days off but we will be doing shows where we can. We are doing the Obscene Extreme in the Czech Republic, which I have always wanted to do because I love the concept that there are no headliners and no one is treated differently than the rest. We also have had a US band whom I love and respect offer to take us out with them but that’s an email I received yesterday so I can’t say anything just yet. We want to play and are open to offers.”
A Fragile King was undoubtedly hard-hitting in every sense particularly in the lyrical content. Splinters occupies a different territory which has no particular concept yet the themes of pain, rejection and addiction run rife. ‘Odious Bliss’ is about self-medicating. Things like grief you can never get over and that’s when alcohol and pills become a temptation.” Greg confirms. “I find it very therapeutic to sing about these themes. It allows me to release a lot of emotions. A song like ‘Seed’ is extremely personal and whenever I sing it, I am taken back to the head space I was in when I wrote it. People have asked if it gets difficult to perform these songs night after night which we will do more often but for me it is about connecting with these emotions. All the lyrics behind A Fragile King especially are insanely personal but I thought why not. There are plenty of extreme metal bands that sing about nonsense and fantasy like zombies and cutting people’s heads off. I don’t think many bands are singing about real death in the way we do. It is probably too close to home for some people. We did the gigs with Bolt Thrower which were for the Teenage Cancer Trust and the singer of Benediction was telling me how he related to it and Jo Bench (Bolt Thrower, bassist) was saying the same thing. My brother also had a book published which was about our dad dying but it’s not a sad book. I gave a copy to Jo Bench who has lost her mum and she said she really got a lot from it.” Splinters definitely feels more like a band effort with further influences from both the crust punk movement and the doom metal scene creating a more diverse second platter. “Everyone contributed a bit more this time. In terms of playing I really have to take my hat off to Adrian who has been phenomenal. He puts a jazz feel into the material one minute but then he can still deliver such crushing blast beats!”
On Vallenfyre’s biography Greg fondly recalls his early teens discovering bands like The English Dogs, Conflict and Discharge while simultaneously appreciating the works of Metal acts like Mötorhead and Black Sabbath before tape trading and discovering death metal and grind. Despite the nostalgic feel of this project Vallenfyre are not an act living in the past. “That was such a great time but it is about bringing the special moments from the shoots of the extreme music scene that came through the soil back in the late eighties and early nineties. I wanted to inject that into a record which is relevant today.”
Briefly from there thoughts turn to Greg’s commitments with Paradise Lost. “The plan was to go into the studio in June but we kept getting offers for festivals. The new material is more adventurous than the last two albums. It won’t be what people expect. We have written half the album as of now. It’s important for me to keep PL and Vallenfyre separate and treat them with the respect they deserve. I want to tour separately just because it could be draining touring for both acts. We have done festivals together but that’s it.”
Considering how personal the lyrics of A Fragile King were, many acts would struggle to find ways to match its intensity. While the new album focuses on other issues Greg has no problem with finding yet more hard-hitting issues to discuss. “There are a couple of songs about mental illness and then there are a couple of songs which are more social and talk about how making money is put ahead of people’ feelings. It sounds very wanky when I talk about it” (laughs).
“The first record was about being despondent and grief-stricken. There is much more anger on this record, it’s so aggressive. I can’t wait to hear what the world thinks of it.”
Buried in the heart of Dalston, Birthdays seems an unlike venue to host one of the US’s finest hardcore bands, Nails. Packed full of neon lighting and modern décor the hoard of hardcore and metal fans invading the establishment for the evening seem mildly out of place. While the venue may not have been ideal, this didn’t deter the fans as the show sold out a week in advance.
With only two bands on that evening, it’s a late start at half eight for Inherit. Heading up from the southeast, this 5-piece opened an excited buzz of people already crushing in to gain the prized places at the front. Playing a mix of hardcore and thrash their music is abrasive, launching into an all-out assault of sound. Vocalist Adam Malik is chatty, energetic and enthusiastic pacing the stage and attempting to enthuse the audience. Despite his best efforts, the atmosphere wasn’t there for them that night and the music fell a little flat.
The popularity of Nails is evident as the venue becomes a mass of bodies and the walls begin to drip with sweat. Although the venue may have sold out, but there was not a hint of selling out from the band. With a heartfelt thank you to the audience and the people who have helped bring them over, Nails seem genuinely touched by the reception that evening.
Not a band for long or gentle intros, the band catapult full force into the set. The energy and atmosphere is intoxicating as limbs began to fly and the crowd mirror the chaotic madness spilling from the stage. With such short tracks, it quickly became hard to keep up with which song was being played and what tracked had preceded that, but ultimately this was unimportant. Nails music may be carefully crafted from across the most violent aspects of both punk and metal but to really get the most from seeing this band live you have to put away the analysis and loose yourself in the moment. Their high-energy performance keeps the crowd moving from beginning to end, and while the majority staggered out the venue appearing to have been through a mixture of an intense beating and a sauna, the cries of appreciation at the end of the set were unmistakable. With the promise of a new album and a return to the UK, it seems this band are not a force that will be stopping any time soon.