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An average Saturday night in an average bar. A few seasoned metal musicians have met for a pint or five to catch up since they are all off the road at the same time for once. As the pints go down their discussions become more sentimental and creative. They start remembering the days of their youth and then someone pops the inevitable idea to start a project reliving the musical glory of days gone. As creative ideas from a drunken mind are usually met with approval from other drunken minds, they all agree the idea is splendid and thus the gauntlet is thrown. Coming months they start to realize it might not have been such a splendid idea after all, but no one really wants to be that guy who calls everything off. They record an album, more old-school than the old school itself, and the fans cherish “Hey, the boys are back in form!” They eventually record another album living off the hype before finally returning to their main acts, obviously more musically refined than the crude compositions they spat out in their early days, and eventually the project born and breed over too many pints that night fade into obscurity leaving naught but a small note in the history books. This could have been the story of Vallenfyre. It’s not!
Sure the members of Vallenfyre started out in death metal acts, which have since evolved into other musical territories. Sure, their debut album was met with the exact hype one can expect when well known musicians return to their roots in the midst of a retro-wave. Sure, the guitar sound has the chainsaw buzz sound written all over it. Vallenfyre though, goes way beyond the standards of your average retro super group. At first glance the expected musical characteristics are there to find. The Stockholm influences are apparent in the guitar sound, particularly in the tremolo heavy up-tempo parts and the melodic Dismember-inspired Maiden-esque lines, whereas the doomy sections has Asphyx written all over it, but Vallenfyre sophomore disc ‘Splinters’ has much more to it.
The first thing noticeable is the way Glencross and Mackintosh utilize the Boss HM-2 sound. Despite wearing the typical buzzing sound the guitars are exemplary clear giving room for all nuances. On an album where the riffs are upright brilliant that can only be of an advantage, I particularly like how they sometimes combine a solid riff with a mood enhancing lead like in the title track without neither disappearing in the mix. The mood has an overall dark and slightly melancholic feeling to it, a sense of unease that you really cannot put your finger on. It is simply there to torment you and render you helpless in a desolate world. The guitars sure get the job done to invoke these feelings whereas Mackintosh vocals put the last pieces in place. Despite not being that varied, they are well articulated and have a simple raw power to them, giving them a sense of uncompromised dominance. They are excellent in their simplicity and I cannot help but wonder why they have not showed heir ugly face before the formation of Vallenfyre.
As mentioned the riffs and leads show true brilliance on ‘Splinters’. I combination with the vocals the listener is treated with quite an awesome dark and disturbing album foreboding ill tides without hope of salvation, no paradise will ever come. Not all songs are of utter top class, but at the same time there are no fillers found on ‘Splinters’. All songs have their place on the album serving a purpose not only for the overall mode, but also for variation beyond the changes in doom-, mid- or up-tempo.
‘Splinters’ holds well for repeated listens part to the strong varied material and part to Erlandssons’s drumming which are the ugly frosting on this disgusting cake. His drumming has lifted albums like the The Haunted’s self-titled debut and does it once again. Being strong enough to stand out on its own, like the insane technique used in ‘Cattle’, its high place in the mix make it not only a part of the rhythm section but also an integral part of some leads, particularly with the galloping guitar work in ‘Odious Bliss’ and ‘Dragged to Gehennah’. Curiously enough, the lead guitars, drums and vocals all share a high place in the mix and yet they are all crystal clear without the production losing its slightly rough edge. An excellent way of using the musical strong points to create an atmosphere driven by leads, riffs, drums and vocals and I really cannot come up with another example of an album where the production is using all the excellent musical resources in such a resourceful way.
Vallenfyre are lucky to live in a digital age where accessing music is easy. Had this been 20 years ago this gem would have gone me by completely due to the butt-ugly album cover. Going through the goods at a record store I would have favoured something that looks like it would have reflected the insane melancholy inside. Since the times are different I am glad to have discovered ‘Splinters’ and every time the album fades with the abrupt closing of the title track the instant urge is to push play once more. That is what ‘Splinters’ do to you, it creates an urge for more, more of the ill-boding darkness declaring paradise forever lost.
Originally written for www.metalcovenant.com