We haven’t reviewed any Swedish retro death for a spell, so here’s a big chunk of it to fill our crust quota. But Vallenfyre isn’t your average Swedish retro death band, mind you. They hail from the U.K. and are a super group of sorts, helmed by Gregor Mackintosh, longtime guitarist for goth/doom troupe Paradise Lost. Joining him in these brootal endeavors is Hamish Hamilton Glencross of My Dying Bride and Adrian Erlandsson of At the Gates. With such an impressive collective, it shouldn’t shock anyone that they make highly effective death metal. Their A Fragile King debut was a smoking slab of nasty riffage in the illustrious tradition of all things Sunlight Studios and the greater Entombed/Dismember tradition. Splinters brings us more of the same cracking blend of fast, abrasive death and pulverizingly ponderous doom/death. There’s a wonderfully toxic mix of influences sloshing around in this thrash can, from Celtic Frost, Grave, Hail of Bullets and naturally, Paradise Lost and Entombed. While not exactly breaking new ground, it certainly breaks enough bones and that’s enough for yea olde Steel Druhm.
Splinters plays out like a homage to a who’s who of death and doom stalwarts. Opener “Scabs” is a battering ram of ugly retro death that could easily have been spewed out in 91 or 92 by any of the Swedish titans of that buzzing sound. “Bereft” slows down to doom/death dotted with very Paradise Lost-esque riffs and it’s brutal and oppressive. “Odious Bliss” is a enormous nod to early Celtic Frost, sounding very close to their classic “Visions of Mortality.” “Aghast” borrows from Frost‘s Monotheist palette for more doom/death and Asphyx or Hail of Bullets would gladly poach the big, jackhammer riffs on offer.
More Frostisms rear their ugly mug in “Wolves of Sin” and “Dragged to Gehenna” and both satisfy the internal need for raw heaviness. The title track is a mega plodding beast with a touch of bleak, blackened drone that works well amid the ponderous riffing and vintage Paradise Lost influences they work in.
Not every song is a unqualified winner as “Cattle” feels a bit mediocre, despite the ferocity and heaviness of the delivery. The album also feels a bit too long at 50 minutes, though in the band’s defense, they do a pretty respectable job of mixing up the straight ahead death tracks with the doomy ones to keep things interesting.
This is an album of riffs and Mackintosh and Glencross came prepared to throttle, pummel and choke with ginormous ones. They excel at weighty, distorted doom riffs designed to crush your mental cupcakes and they’re no slouches at the faster D-beaty variations made so famous by Entombed et al. Sure, they steal shamelessly from the playbook of Tom G. Warrior and their own main bands, but that isn’t a problem when they do it this well. Mackintosh’s vocals may be standard issue, mega low death growls, but they work quite well here.
Splinters is a very well done, crushingly heavy dose of death with plenty of doom stirred in for shits and gurgles. It keeps the mighty Frost legacy alive and kicking and continues to prove their early works are a seminal influence on modern extreme music. These guys are one of the rare “super groups” that live up to their hype and I hope they keep this Vallenfyre thang going for a while. Ugly stuff for ugly people. Yes, I called you ugly, what are you gonna do about it?