It is axiomatic, perhaps, to state that tragedy can strike at any time, but when you have to witness a member of your family develop a terminal illness, no matter how prepared you might be, it is impossible to negate the all-consuming pain and sorrow. How we react to that sorrow is arguably what defines us and, in the case of Paradise Lost’s Greg Mackintosh, whose father passed away from cancer, he used the sense of despair as the catalyst for a new project, Vallenfyre, who released their debut album, ‘a fragile king’ at the end of October.
The album, then, has its genesis in the most human feelings of misery and impotence, and yet despite its frequently grim nature, it is a menacing, cathartic and often thrilling ride through the bowels of extreme metal taking in Greg’s love of grindcore, crust punk and doom as it goes. Refusing to allow the sorrow of his father’s passing to become introverted Greg used the album to turn his rage and sense of loss outward, a solitary eye glaring at society and politics from the very personal perspective of grief and alienation.
Recruiting long-time friends for the project, including My Dying bride’s Hamish Glencross and paradise Lost’s Adrian Erlandsson, it rapidly became apparent that Greg would not be able to ask anyone else to approach the lyrics he had crafted for the album so he switched from guitar to the microphone, intoning the lyrics with a deathly growl that oozes menace. Avoiding the press circus that would inevitably have surrounded such a group, the band opted to release an ultra limited 7” vinyl that would allow fans to appreciate the music without the distraction of who was making it and it was only after the songs had been heavily circulated that talk of who Vallenfyre actually comprised surfaced, by which point the band already had a rock solid reputation with which to work.
We were lucky enough to be able to submit a few questions to Greg about the formation of one of the year’s finest metal albums… read on and discover Vallenfyre.
1. Where does the name Vallenfyre come from and what does it mean?
It is 2 words from the old English dialect that I put together. Vallen means strong or strength and Fyre means fire. I just liked how the two sounded together.
2. Considering how personal this project is to you, was it difficult finding the right members to drive it forward?
No, that was the easiest part. They are some of my best friends. I have been friends with Scoot and Hamish for around 20 years. We all grew up with a passion for this style of music and we all have a great laugh together. It’s just because I have been in the music business for 20 something years that most of my friends seem to be in bands. It is first and foremost about a bunch of mates having fun playing music they grew up with.
3. When you wrote the lyrics, did you go through a process of evaluating them and redrafting them to make them more ambiguous and outward looking or are these very much the thoughts you jotted down when you first conceived Vallenfyre?
A mixture of both I would have to say. I think the lines that haven’t been re-evaluated are fairly obvious to spot. They are for me anyway.
Throughout the record I refer to a beast, which is a euphemism for cancer. Whilst my Father was ill it always felt like the cancer was an actual presence to me… like a shadow in the corner.
So as you can see I was kind of in a very introspective frame of mind at that time anyway.
4. You chose to release a single on vinyl only, in very limited quantities and before the line up was unveiled – was that you testing the water so to speak?
Yes kind of. We had no idea if anyone would like it. We also wanted it to be anonymous for as long as we could keep it that way. It was kind of refreshing to have people judge it with no expectations or any history.
5. Is vinyl something that you’re keen on as a music fan?
It’s what I grew up with. I’m a sucker for packaging. Nice cover artwork and layout; lyrics and pictures of the band. I was a huge fan of picture discs. I still have them all.
My kids never knew packaging really so they don’t miss it which is quite sad. CD’s are kind of outdated too because of mp3 and downloading, but I still think that vinyl has the collectability factor and will not die an easy death.
6. With you crafting the music and lyrics about a very specific event in your life, to what extent were the other members of Vallenfyre involved in the creative process?
They were more involved in giving me feedback and ultimately the recording, where I think everyone brought something to the table. Adrian did an amazing job on the drums. I think Scoot brought a real dirty edge to it with his rough style of playing.
7. The artwork for the album is really striking – were you involved in the design at all and who completed it for you?
The artist Orion Landau did the cover. I sent him lyrics, the title, a couple of demo songs and a rough outline of what I wanted it to look like. He did the rest and I am very happy with it. I think it perfectly represents what you get musically and lyrically on the album.
8. How long did the album take to record and was it a difficult process?
We recorded it between mid December 2010 and early April 2011.
We did all the guitars at a sound engineer friend of ours house. The drums, vocals and mix were done at Parlour Studios, Kettering, UK. The mix was done by Russ Russell who works with Napalm Death amongst others and is another old friend. It was total fun to record and we had a real laugh doing it.
The only hard part was getting everyone in one place at one time. Hamish was working on a new MDB EP, Adrian was touring with At the Gates, Scoot was busy with Doom, so it was like a few days here, a few days there.
9. Do you have any ambitions for Vallenfyre or is this a one-off project that you’re going to draw a line under now you’ve completed the album?
We have no real ambition or expectations for Vallenfyre. I have no idea if there will be more recordings. A lot can change in a couple of years. We are doing this for fun and to restore our faith in music. We will do some gigs in 2012 and just see what happens.
10. How did you end up doing vocals in the album and how did you feel about stepping up to the microphone?
Well I couldn’t think of any friends whose vocal style I thought would fit the music. Also as the lyrics developed it became evident to me that I couldn’t see anyone else voicing these lyrics.
I practiced and came up with a style I liked. I played the guys a couple of demo vocal songs and they said they liked it so I did the whole thing.
It was a little weird becoming a vocalist but that’s probably normal if it’s something you haven’t done before.
11. Will there be any live Vallenfyre dates or is it too hard to fit in around all your (and your members’) other commitments?
Yes we already have a few gigs and a couple of festivals booked in Europe. If people want to see us then we’ll do it. I would really like to take this to the States and Japan too. Time will tell I guess.
Vallenfyre’s amazing debut ‘A fragile king’ is available now on CD, LP and Download.