Unholy fucking shit, does this one rule. And I do mean rule. As in, it’s easily the year’s best metal release thus far and I doubt there will be anything as earth-shattering throughout the rest of the year. A bit pre-mature to be making such a statement? Sure. But give this one a spin and you’ll see what I mean. It combines the best elements of death metal and doom metal with hints of sludge, thrash, black metal and gothic metal for something truly unique and powerful.
Just who are Vallenfyre? They’re none other than a supergroup consisting of Greg Mackintosh (Paradise Lost) on vocals and lead guitars, Hamish Glencross (My Dying Bride) on rhythm and lead guitars, Scoot (Doom, Extinction of Mankind) on bass and Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates, Paradise Lost, The Haunted) on drums. Splinters is their second album following 2011’s A Fragile King.
Helming Splinters is producer Kurt Ballou (Converge, Beast Milk, Black Breath) and he gives Splinters a clean if not glimmering sound that allows each of the instruments to shine in a way that you don’t hear on most metal records, being that so many are overly concerned with sounding raw and/or dirty, shooting themselves in their collective foot. The other thing about his production style here is that he gives each of the instruments plenty of breathing room. Even during the slower, plodding doom moments, there’s a certain degree of space between each of the instruments enabling you to fully appreciate them individually in addition to as a whole. Of course, I don’t suggest that you sit around over-analyzing things — better you just let it rock your fucking socks off — but it’s nice to know that so much thought went into the album, which packs more nuances than your average Johnny Depp performance. And, yeah, that’s a lot. But the devil is in the details and this one is entirely laced with evil.
The album opens with the insanely fast “Scabs,” which has such an impressive drum sound that your jaw will drop past the floor and into the basement as each beat clobbers you over the head as though your skull was actually being used as a bass drum. If Erlandsson doesn’t win some kind of drummer of the year award for this album, well, then there truly is no justice in this thing we call the metal world. Whether the music is lightning fast or slow and grinding, his playing always packs a level of high intensity that most drummers could only dream of achieving.
It’s the guitars that take to the forefront on the wickedly grinding, doom-laden “Bereft,” which is like the audio equivalent of being slowly sliced by razor blades in a way that you’re surprised to find pleasurable. (I said the album was glimmering, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also brutally sharp.) “Throughout his plight / The cries in vain / Ring out in twisted symphonies,” growls Mackintosh as the epic seven minute number begins. Eventually he demands, “Oh Lord our father / Thy will be done / Save us this suffering / Or cut out our tongues.” It’s not a threat, it’s a prayer.
Some of the most thought-provoking lyrics on the album are those of “Instinct Slaughter,” a blistering tune with something of an old school speed metal vibe that clocks in at just under a minute and a half. “Profit relies on supply and demand,” Mackintosh sings. “Supply the means, demand the slaughter.” Consider it biting social commentary that puts a mirror in front of the news and reflects it back at itself.
The wound-picking latter half of the album features its blackest lyrics and would seem focused on religious hypocrisy. “Give rise to the abhorrent church of Christ,” Mackintosh demands during the pulverizing tune that is “The Wolves of Sin.” His dissection of the church continues on the mosh-ready “Cattle”: “Denial of Christ / Religion created sin / The cattle must rise / To curb the plague within.”
Among the artists Vallenfyre cite as inspiration for Splinters are Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Autopsy, early Napalm Death and early Bathory. Suffice to say they found motivation in the past work of some of the greats. But when you listen to Splinters, it doesn’t sound like you’re listening to the past. On the contrary, it sounds like a perfect combination of the best of what’s happening right now. Granted, what’s happening in the present is always going to be informed by the past, but you get the idea: this isn’t a nostalgia trip. On the contrary, it’s rather forward-thinking and one hopes the future will be full of bands who take cue from Vallenfyre and ignore genre distinctions in favor of coming up with equally original music where they feel free to take things in whatever directions their hearts so desire instead of producing paint-by-numbers, genre-abiding bullshit.