There has been a lot to say and comment about the healing power of music. Sometimes, it’s easy to recognise; sometimes it’s a lot harder. In the case of the exceptional Vallenfyre not only is it easy, it is admirable and enviable. You probably know the band’s back story already. Supposedly a “supergroup” made up of members of Paradise Lost, At the Gates and Doom. Well, I’m not sure about the phrase “supergroup” as it conjures too many images of egotism, rampant fretwankery and flatulent records but, with that kind of heritage and experience, I knew immediately that I would find it hard to resist.
And so it proves. “A Fragile King” is not just a good record; it’s a stunning one. It’s not just the sum of its parts- it’s much more than them. Vallenfyre‘s dark, foreboding record is making a beeline for the year end “best of” lists, such is the impact this proper, old school death metal record is having. It’s not old school in the sense of being retrogressive or antiquated. Rather, its bleak aural passages are vibrant and hauntingly melancholy. This is reboot, not rehash.
Much of the album is the result of the creative output from Greg Mackintosh, ( yes, him) whose father sadly passed away in late 2010. The resulting output is really his creative response to a very sad, personal set of circumstances. Some of the record reminds me of Celtic Frost at their most claustrophobic- and, at the minute, I cannot think of any higher praise. There is much here that is sad, haunting and deeply melancholy. However, there is nothing here that is second rate, perfunctory or lazy.
This is a hard record. You will, as likely, be familiar with ‘Desecration’, which continues to pound mercilessly through one’s soul. Less familiar will be the brilliant ‘Ravenous Whore’ or the brutal ‘As the World Collapses’ which underscores that this is not just a record of the odd highlight or occasional charm- it’s a proper narrative journey of serious quality. For me, the exemplary ‘My Black Siberia’, a deeply affecting highlight, reinforces the supreme quality of the record.
Through the gloom, however, there is a level of tenacity, defiance and, almost perversely, optimism. It’s as if the record has worked as catharsis for the main protagonists. This is not an easy, or easy listening record; you wouldn’t expect it to be. It is, however, a work of dark, pounding brilliance.