Team-ups are all the rage nowadays, ditching the confines of comic book crossovers for screens both small and large. Vallenfyre struck while the crossover iron was hot. Since 2010, they’ve smashed members of My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, and At the Gates into a throwback Swedeath outfit as gloomy as it is doomy. Defying supergroupian expectations of inconsistency and disappointment, Vallenfyre’s first two albums arrived in a timely fashion and earned high praise here. Fighting through lineup changes that might hobble a lesser band, they present Fear Those Who Fear Him with no less malice, grime, or crust than any of their prior entries.
Adjusting to the departures of drummer Adrian Erlandsson and bassist Scoot, Gregor Mackintosh recruited fellow Paradise Lost bandmate Waltteri Väyrynen to helm the kit while Hamish Hamilton Glencross (ex-My Dying Bride) added bass duties to his repertoire. While I never truly thought the excision of Erlandsson’s influence would knock the band out of orbit, FTWFH puts all doubts to rest. Intro “Born to Decay” and follow-up “Messiah” take a bit to get going, but when they do, boy are they heavy. Vallenfyre’s take on the classic Swedish offering sounds every bit as vicious and distinct as it did on debut A Fragile King. Short, chunky rippers lay down thick tar-black slabs of asphalt, reminiscent of Entombed, Dismember, and the entire Swedish subway crew. Song length skews shorter than ever, and two-minute ravagings from “Messiah” and the barking “Nihilist” imbue the record with a grind-like flow. The latter pumps Napalm Death through a Swedish sausage maker before culminating in a diving solo resplendent in its brevity and squalor. Väyrynen earns his Swedeath stripes on the aptly named “Degeneration,” flipping a fantastic rolling build into rollicking D-beat with ease. Glencross and Mackintosh cut crusty riffs that match Väyrynen in spirit without losing their killer edge.
When Vallenfyre’s trademark death/doom trudges into the room with “An Apathetic Grave,” it’s Mackintosh’s time to shine. The funereal crawl of My Dying Bride and later-Celtic Frost; the early Paradise Lost riffing; the elephant-on-your-chest distortion; they all mean nothing without the exceptional bestiality of his vocals. Mackintosh growls with a hoarse savagery that could inspire three pounds of shifting bowels in even the most incontinent of listeners. The consistent level of clarity he attains while expelling his lungs into a bloody mess on the floor is incredible, even if that poor rug really did tie the room together. It’s a skill that prevents plodders like “The Merciless Tide” and “Cursed From the Womb” from growing stale, though not entirely. If FTWFH suffers from a major issue, it’s the blurred lines that develop with repeat listens. While tracks with stronger characteristics like “Nihilist” and “Soldier of Christ” stand out time and again, certain cuts fade into the background. “Kill All Your Masters” and “Amongst the Filth” are fine on their own but fail to impress in context. Penultimate “Cursed From the Womb” suffers alongside closer “Temple of Rats” from the inevitable fatigue of FTWFH’s weight. Neither stumble by their own merit, but you get the feeling that you’ve heard it all before by the time they enter the batter’s box.
Still, FTWFH lines up quite well next to Vallenfyre’s previous entries. Whoever organized the album’s track listing deserves a lot of credit, as the proceedings flow naturally and evenly despite sometimes quite disparate directions. Every supergroup needs a superproducer, and Vallenfyre have found theirs in the returning Kurt Ballou (High On Fire, Trap Them). The guitars sound exactly how you want them to sound, like beefy chainsaws revved by an overzealous country kid ready to take his Pig Destroyer fandom a tad too seriously. Conversely, Väyrynen’s drums cut through the wall of distortion and doom easily, while the skinsman himself morphs to fit the stylistic expanse that his elders have laid out for him.
Fear Those Who Fear Him might not expand the Swedeath universe, at least not compared to A Fragile King. But the album lives comfortably as a foul-hearted denizen in the world of re-Swede that’s cropped up in recent years. Vallenfyre prove themselves once again to be one of the premier purveyors of muck and hatred. You need not invest a decade in this supergroup to see returns. The payoff is now.