“It’s a continuing midlife crisis, that’s what it is. Hey, I even shaved my head about four weeks ago and now it’s about half an inch long and bleached white. I guess I’m just trying to be 12 again or something…”
In the midst of a two-week holiday in the US after completing the forthcoming Paradise Lost album, the ever-sarcastic Gregor Mackintosh is slightly bemused by any attempt to unravel the big scheme behind his other band, Vallenfyre. “The whole thing was very spontaneous,” he insists, “and continues to be. While with Paradise Lost you still have to be involved in the music industry to a certain degree, here I do what I want, when I want. I don’t need to please anybody else but me. It’s very liberating.”
Vallenfyre wasn’t always a carefree endeavour. The band was first and foremost an act of catharsis for Greg, who was dealing with his father’s passing in December 2009 from cancer. Referring to the sickness as “the beast”, he poured all his anger and sadness into 2011’s A Fragile King album after recruiting a bunch of high-profiled mates such as former Solstice and then-My Dying Bride six-stringer Hamish Glencross, At The Gates’ Adrian Erlandsson, who had just joined Paradise Lost, and Doom bass player Scoot. But once he had “bared his soul”, as he puts it, he knew that changes had to be made.
“The first album was so personal that at one point I almost didn’t want to release it,” he says. “It brought something out that most people don’t want to talk about, even in death metal, which is kind of ironic when you think about it. I couldn’t carry on with that theme, even if I still did on a few tracks on the follow-up album Splinters, but from a more retrospective angle. I had so much fun that I wanted to carry on, but by doing so, I had to broaden the subject and talk about things that piss me off. So the new album is basically just me complaining about everybody and everything for 39 minutes!”
If most bands, understandably, become more refined as they get older, Fear Those Who Fear Him proves Vallenfyre are headed in the opposite direction, to the point where you could almost talk about musical devolution. With a lexical field and songtitles worthy of Discharge at their most political (Nihilist, Messiah, Kill All Your Masters) and a 40-second blast, Dead World Breathes, that could have been spat out by Napalm Death back in 1988, the melancholia of A Fragile King almost seems like a distant memory. Yet for Greg, it’s all about returning to his roots.
“I grew up with punk. Picking up an Ultra-Violent seven-inch in 1983 is what made me want to pick up a guitar in the first place. Being born in 1970 meant that I missed out most of the early 80s action, but my older brother was into punk and besides letting me borrow some of his records, he also took me to my first gigs where his mates were pushing me around for fun. He was known as ‘Mackie’, so I was referred to as ‘little Mackie’. But then by 1986, as the bands I liked the most like English Dogs or Sacrilege had begun to harden their sound, I moved on to hardcore and later into metal. So what Vallenfyre is about, really, is exploring the different elements of the music I grew up with. Even when I was doing Host with Paradise Lost I was still listening to that, it just wasn’t prevalent in what I was doing at the time. So the first album was based on the death and doom metal I listened to in the late 80s. The second one incorporated other elements, and this one brought a more punk and crust vibe.”
With Hamish now the only other original member left, and Paradise Lost drummer Waltteri Väyrynen brought into the fold, Greg stresses that Vallenfyre really feels like a band effort now.
“We all wanted to push the envelope even further on this album; that’s why we have both the fastest and the slowest tracks we ever did. We also wanted to outdo Splinters in the dirtiness scale, so we have that early grindcore, messy vibe, the splashy stuff where you can barely hear the snare. With Paradise Lost we played quite a few gigs with the Lee Dorrian version of Napalm Death back in 1988⁄89 and that left quite a mark. So I remember saying to saying to Waltteri that I wanted his drums to sound as if they were falling down the stairs while he was playing them! When we did A Fragile King, we had yet to play live and we only started properly playing gigs once Splinters was out and we realised we really liked that brutish, straightforward sound. Our producer Kurt Ballou toured in the US with Converge and us, so after we said we wanted to capture that feeling, he carefully watched us every night to see how we could reproduce it in the studio. In the end, we used fewer effects, with one guitar using the ‘Left Hand Wrath’ pedal that’s like a modern version of the HM-2 pedal that’s responsible for the Swedish sound of the early 90s on one side, and the other with a more crust/punk set. We recorded those tracks with all us three in the same room and it was so loud that you could almost hear the air being sucked out of the room!”
Now, with his main venture, due in the studio two months after completing Fear Those… (“At the last minute, our new label said they really wanted the album to be ready for this summer, so while I was gearing up to go to Boston to record with Vallenfyre, I also had to double duty and write for Paradise Lost”), ready to swallow most of his time, it’s all about finding space for Vallenfyre. And getting drunk.
“That’s part of the whole thing and that’s why I often remember afterwards what I’m rambling about in between songs, although it seems I sometimes offend people!” he laughs. “It makes my life more difficult, though, when both of my bands are playing on the same bill, just like last year at Bloodstock. I had to get drunk first with Vallenfyre, then lie down to cure my hangover before getting drunk again later for Paradise Lost. At the end of the day, I was knackered to say the least!”
FEAR THOSE WHO FEAR HIM IS RELEASED ON JUNE 2 VIA CENTURY MEDIA