2011 might as well be dubbed the year of Swedish Retro Death. Band after loathsome band has burst from the underground to pay rancid homage to genre legends like Entombed, Dismember and Grave. Despite the sheer volume of the stuff, Steel Druhm has remained supportive and for the most part, the trend hasn’t worn out its welcome. Now we get Vallenfyre‘s debut full length from a veritable death metal super group featuring members of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Cradle of Filth. With such a pedigree, it shouldn’t be too surprising when A Fragile King has everything you would reasonably expect from a Swedish death album. It’s chunky, thick, nasty and vile. It’s an ode to all things Entombed with a sizeable injection of Celtic Frosty goodness as well. At times, its so much like the immortal Left Hand Path it’s uncanny, yet it also brings in plenty of dire dirges to shake things up. This MOFO was conceived in unholy sin, birthed in ungodly filth and raised on bloody carnage. There’s a guitar sound heavy enough to fracture your vertebrae and vocals so grisly they’ll disturb the deranged. But, you rightly ask, is it actually good? Oh yes, it’s really good! This is unapologetically retro and doesn’t strive for innovation but it nails home the tried-and-true Swedish sound with the subtlety of a Panzer division. How this will sit with you depends entirely on your tolerance for more Swedish death. If 2011 has fed you all the old-time death you can stomach, move along and I won’t think less of you. If not, belly up to the death buffet and chow down on this meatloaf of the damned.
As soon as the guitars roar to unlife in opener “All Will Suffer,” you know you are in for a harrowing experience. The basic Sunlight Studios guitar tone is there but sounds even more murky and raw that it did back in the salad days of the style. The tempo is slow to mid-paced and the riffing will remind old-timers of the pummeling might of Celtic Frost. One hell of an opener for sure. “Desecration” ups the speed and throws in creepy, slithering riff patterns and mournful, forlorn solos not unlike those heard on the first Entrails album (listen at 3:57 for a very moody, glum example). Elsewhere, songs like “Cathedrals of the Dread” and “Seeds” feature super doom riffs of Trouble and Saint Vitus proportions accompanied by raucous death metal. “Seeds” in particular works very well as a creepy, doom-death gem. Numbers like “Black Siberia” and “The Divine Have Fled” go right for the classic Entombed playbook and get it pretty close to perfect. At no point are things technical, progressive or clean. It’s all raw, dirty and crushingly heavy. The writing is crisp, the songs all have memorable aspects to them and there’s plenty of variety in tempo and dynamics.
The guitars are the guts of Vallenfyre and the ridiculously heavy riffing is admirably rendered by Hamish Hamiliton Glencross (My Dying Bride) and a gentleman simply known as Mully. The tone is gigantic, hideous and the riffing will give you the sensation of being run over by an armored column, which later backs over your corpse just to be dicks. Gregor Macintosh’s (Paradise Lost) death croaks are low, phlegmy and very convincing (this album is his attempt to work through some personal tragedy and loss). His bellowing, along with the relentless sledgehammer riffing will cause you to feel a touch of bell’s palsy in and around the facial area (it’s just a partial paralysis). The production is solid, nicely raw and basically serves to amp up the guitar buzz to insane levels of sonic abuse. It’s distortion for distortion’s sake and I never argue with that (it’s death metal, after all).
At the end of the day, there’s a shelf life to the whole Swedish death retro wave and its expiration date is drawing ever nearer. I love the sound, I love the style and I really enjoyed most of the retro releases this year, including this one. But, even I can’t handle the volume with which this stuff is currently propagating. However, I have no hesitation recommending this platter of plague and pain. It’s brutal, skull cracking music done by vets of extreme music, for fans of extreme music. Ponderous man, fucking ponderous.