Friday record round-up: Vallenfyre, Embers, Insomnium

Vallenfyre

The end of the week comes with some loose ends that need a tying. Basically, there are a few things to get out there that I’ve been trying to squeeze into the schedule, and now seems as good a time as any to make sure these things don’t go unwritten.

Yes, it’s time for another record roundup, and as usual, we’re keeping this thing as diverse as we can so that, no matter what you prefer, you might find something of interest here. We have an upcoming release from a death metal supergroup that is sure to be one of the autumn’s most talked-about records, an offering from a Bay Area black metal band who keep things as DIY as possible, and one from a melodic death band whose new work sounds suspiciously like another group’s output. But not in a bad way. So let’s get to it.

Greg Mackintosh is used to making music that can be utterly moody and depressing in his role as guitar player for legendary Paradise Lost. But the material he drums up on Vallenfyre’s debut record “A Fragile King” makes much of his other band’s work seem practically jovial in comparison. Mackintosh, who handles guitar and vocals here, was moved to create this music following the death of his father after a bout with prostate cancer. In fact, he was on tour with Paradise Lost in support of their “Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us” album when his father took a turn for the worse. Mackintosh credits his dad with helping him discover and appreciate more extreme forms of metal. I mean, who else out there has a father who would willingly listen to and enjoy the Bolt Thrower Peel Sessions? So in his dad’s honor, he went back to his roots for “A Fragile King.”

The music is deadly and reeks of old school crust and death metal, something we don’t get in quality amounts anymore. But Mackintosh knows how it’s done because he grew up with and absorbed these sounds, and with him is a solid backing of other musicians who also understand such things, including guitarist Hamish Glencross (My Dying Bride), bassist Scoot (Doom, Extinction of Mankind),  drummer Adrian Erlandsson (At the Gates, Paradise Lost), and guitarist Mully. Yes, three guitar players, so you can imagine this is riff heavy and outright destructive. But if you listen closely to the vocals – the growls are quite decipherable – you can hear Mackintosh’s sadness and mourning. It’s heart-wrenching.

The crusher “All Will Suffer” opens this beast with a doomy, downtrodden feel that just revels in filth, and that takes us to thrashy and punchy “Desecration” and the D-beat infested “Ravenous,” that just rips you right open. “A Thousand Martyrs” deals both in classic doom and death metal, as Mackintosh confesses all the world’s martyrs “will never know the grief that I feel,” which certainly is without doubt, and he pays his father further homage on “Seeds” when he offers, “Farewell, my king, you must rest your head.” He also revisits both his dad’s suffering and the dread that weighs on his mind on closer “The Grim Irony,” where he recalls being “condemned to a living hell.” It’s a relentless and crazy-awesome record that’s had me overly excited ever since I heard it the first time. And I hope Mackintosh and his family have found their peace. No doubt his father would be proud of this special piece of work, a death metal album with a true heart and soul, as bruised as both may be.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.vallenfyre.co.uk/

To buy “A Fragile King,” go here: http://www.centurymedia.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.centurymedia.com/

Embers

I’ve had Embers’ new double-album “Shadows” at my disposal for a few months now, and I even did a lot of listening to this impressive piece of black metal when sitting on the shore on Rehoboth Beach while reading about kings and knights opening each other’s throats. Um, this isn’t really beach music, though. Not sure why it worked for me in that setting. Anyway, while this is black metal at heart, it also had some punk and thrash trappings, and while I hate to label this as symphonic considering where most people’s heads will go, there are those elements here. But the rush of keys and strings are not overwhelming and don’t claim this record as their own. They simply play their own roles and serve to enhance these songs.

Embers formed when bassist/vocalist Kelly Nelson and guitarist Steve DeCaprio’s old punk outfit Lesser of the Two dissolved in 2002. They planted the seeds along with drummer Jerry Buchanan, and eventually brought in guitarist Timm Kennedy to round out the lineup, and from there they set out on a journey of independent creation, tirelessly bringing their music to both local and international audiences, and keeping a keen eye toward arresting visual design that you can see on their album covers and T shirts. They’re one of those bands that, as much as they may want to remain on their own, I don’t see how they can’t be on some kind of major indie metal label. They have the chops, and they certainly have a very marketable sound that doesn’t betray any underground aesthetics.

Their new record is one you’ll need to set aside some time to digest fully. There are 10 cuts here, and other than the droning intro and outro pieces, demand a good chunk of your time. Putting together essentially eight epic cuts is a challenge for most bands, but Embers do it pretty well. It helps that there isn’t an extreme metal sound they won’t allow into the mix as long as it works for them, and that’s what keeps this album so fresh and exhilarating. “Eucharist” balances itself on surging black metal melodies, creaky growls (it’s a guy/girl vocal deal, and you’ll have fun deciding who’s more brutal) and some doom, and every moment is worth it; “Forsaken” is rich in synth orchestration, and moments remind me a lot of Iron Maiden’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” (an album I love); “Shadows” and “Plague” are both gnarly and nasty, letting in almost no beauty; “Malediction” has an awesome, vintage Bay Area thrash feel and is my favorite on the collection; while “Awakening,” that features viola player Nine, who has since passed away, is an incredible track that continually robs and restores your breath. If you’re into Emperor, Slayer, more recent Celtic Frost and the early days of Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir before both turned into what they are today, you’ll love “Shadows.”

For more on the band, go here: http://embers-music.com/

To buy “Shadows,” go here: http://embers.bandcamp.com/album/shadows

Insomnium

Finnish melodic death juggernauts Insomnium have been around for quite some time now, and “One for Sorrow” is their first for metal powerhouse Century Media. But even with the impressive, well-worn back catalog that they have, never did I think they’d make a turn toward sounding like their nation’s version of Amon Amarth. I don’t really think it was on purpose or anything, as their last effort “Across the Dark” (out on Candlelight) didn’t really sound that way, so it would be a weird time for the band to start aping such as well-known outfit. My guess is this is just the way things happened. And really, this isn’t a bad record, and any fan of this band probably will be all about this.

No one can accuse this band of skimping on the melody, because they have so much here, they almost could have saved some of it for other bands who fail to achieve such pleasurable stickiness. The guitar work surges, the drums bash you in the chest, and the vocals are made for live sing-alongs, that is if you don’t mind screaming most of the words. And most people probably won’t mind. This is a full-bodied, well-produced piece of work that even sounds majestic on the fairly low-fi digital version of the album that’s at my disposal. If you give this thing a run on your home stereo system, you’ll probably be able to see colors gushing from your speakers.

Following intro cut “Inertia,” the band blasts into “Meandering Through Shadows,” a punishing song that also has some power metal in its DNA and probably would sound great emanating from the hull of a ship. The big chorus should inspire much fist pumping, be it in your living room or some music hall. “Song of the Blackest Bird” is fiery for the most part but also has moments of delicacy; “Only One Who Waits” is chunky and blistering (the double kick drums are massive) but ends in a rush of whirring keys; “Every Hour Wounds” also has a great hook for the chorus, one that makes me make that Amon Amarth comparison; and “Lay the Ghost to Rest,” while a tad too long, offers a change-up and a chance to breathe a little bit. Honestly, melodic death metal really isn’t my thing (well, AA aside), but Insomnium always offer up something tasty and worthwhile, with “One for Sorrow” is no exception. Now let me go get my plastic sword.

By the way, I have reviews of both Vallenfyre and Insomnium in the upcoming Issue 62 of Outburn, due by the end of the year. The write-ups are totally different than what you read above and address some things I don’t above, so please check them out.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.insomnium.net/

To buy “One for Sorrow,” go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Search/insomnium

For more on the label, go here: http://www.centurymedia.com/

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