A Fragile King
posted on 12/2011 By:
The backstory of the formation of Vallenfyre has been fairly well bandied about, but bears repeating: founding member and guitarist of Paradise Lost Gregor Mackintosh, in coping with the recent death of his father, starts writing devoutly backward-glancing death metal tunes and eventually hooks up with My Dying Bride guitarist Hamish Glencross, drummer-of-a-hundred-bands Adrian Erlandsson, and a few drinking mates. Personal catharsis through a re-exploration of one’s roots makes for a nice origin story, but what makes A Fragile King worth your time is that despite its grief-stricken genesis, it sounds more than anything like a bunch of seasoned musicians totally comfortable in their craft kicking back and having a great time bashing out a rather purposefully simple version of the music that they helped pioneer and refine over the course of two decades.
That having been said, A Fragile King never comes across as an attempt to revisit the glory days of Gothic or Turn Loose the Swans, nor as an atavistic retread of the deathlier efforts of Lost Paradise or As the Flower Withers. In fact, tonally, Vallenfyre is all Sverige and little Albion, with the guitars grinding out the dental-work bothering HM-2 buzzsaw. Unlike the current two-pronged glut of old-school death metal (punky Entombed and murky Incantation), however, Vallenfyre’s songwriting approach is culled from a crustier, non-Swedish and minimally American strain of old school death-et-al-isms, including Obituary, Asphyx, Autopsy, and a pinch of Celtic Frost.
The basic formula is simple enough: The verses tend toward the nimble and occasionally d-beaten death metal lope, while the choruses, bridges, intros, and so forth dredge up an insistent stream of downcast melodies in the finest tradition of, well, prime Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. Still, the marriage of crusty, buzzing death metal careening and melancholic doom/death passages is both primally satisfying and searingly catchy. Gregor Mackintosh’s vocals are also a surprising treat throughout, with the perfectly understandable throaty growl coming off as a bit of a cross between Paul Kuhr and Peter Tägtgren’s stint in Bloodbath.
Still, as ever, the songs are the thing, and A Fragile King thrives or stumbles on its ability to enliven each solution of its formula with enough melodic flourishes, vocal hooks, and fulfilling riffage. Successful moments like the spindly guitar intro to “A Thousand Martyrs” abound, and several songs (including opener “All Will Suffer”) are rock solid throughout. The sloppy, punkish burst of aggression on “Ravenous Whore” is all kinds of goofy fun, but the less inspired d-beating of “Cathedrals of Dread” falters. Elsewhere, the chiming background guitar on “My Black Siberia” sounds like it could have escaped from a pre-Disintegration Cure rehearsal before falling in with a rough crowd. In general, the album does get a bit samey, which makes the supremely doomed “Seeds” a welcome change for the dramatically miserable. Album closer “The Grim Irony” pulls a similar down-shifted trick with only slightly less affecting results. Innovation and ‘old school’ aren’t the easiest cohabitants, but Vallenfyre’s slightly unorthodox recombinant effort is professionally conceived and warmly executed. None too shabby for a bunch of guys shooting the shit down the pub.
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