Most people know Gregor Mackintosh as the lead guitarist for doom metal stalwarts Paradise Lost. Yet the gloom and sorrow conveyed by that band could not match what Mackintosh endured in 2009 when he watched his father John Robert Mackintosh die of cancer.
That life-altering experience led Mackintosh to take what initially were feelings and emotions he wrote down as part of the grieving process and slowly turn that into the classic-style death metal heard on his new band Vallenfyre’s first full-length album “A Fragile King.” It might sound silly to say that a death metal record focuses on death, but there aren’t many that approach it in quite this way. It’s a very human, vulnerable album when Mackintosh is reflecting on his loss and his father’s struggle. There are other subjects addressed on the album, too, but Mackintosh’s tribute to his dad takes center stage.
Mackintosh took time to talk with Meat Mead Metal about “A Fragile King,” his supergroup lineup that also features fellow Paradise Lost member Adrian Erlandsson on drums, Hamish Hamilton Glencross of My Dying Bride on guitar, Mully on guitar and Scott on bass, and what future, if any at all, this new band sees for itself. Oh, and stick around for some details on the next Paradise Lost platter.
Meat Mead Metal: It seems “A Fragile King” is getting a lot of very favorable reactions. We spoke very highly of it on our site, and we certainly weren’t alone in our praise. Are you happy with the reaction it’s gotten?
Gregor Mackintosh: Well I’d have to say yes, because I never expected anything at all. This was something that wasn’t even meant to be a record, let alone a band. We had no plan whatsoever. We’re just going with the flow and having fun with it and seeing what happens. Every good review is a bonus, and I’ve only seen a handful of reviews that have been a little bit derogatory, and the rest have been positive.
MMM: Now that the record’s been done for a while and you can kind of step back from it and look at it more critically, how do you feel about how the music turned out?
GM: I think it’s good. I would have liked to keep (the band) anonymous a little while longer, because when we released the EP (“Desecration”) first, we didn’t announce who was in the band or anything. But it was Century Media’s decision (to reveal the members). I mean, they paid for it to be recorded, so they wanted to announce who was in it. But apart from that, everything has been good. It’s nice because a couple of the guys from Century Media grew up in the scene where I came from and kind of knew what I was going for, from the production, to the artwork, to the vibe of it. So luckily I didn’t really have to explain myself.
MMM: Did you want to keep the lineup a mystery just because of how people perceive the “supergroup” concept? Expectations can be high and sometimes people can be overly skeptical.
GM: Yeah, that was it exactly. It was really our bass player Scoot’s idea, because he comes from the crust punk scene, and he said that having guys from bands like My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost may not be such a good thing initially. Wouldn’t it be better to reach people with no bias either way? I think that was a better way to approach it, and it was interesting at first because you’d read reviews online of the EP, and these people have no history to go on at all and no baggage – I mean that in the best sense of the word – and it kind of took the pressure off. It felt fresh to do it that way, and there were only a couple of guys in their reviews who said, like, “Hang on. This doesn’t sound like a bunch of teenagers doing this.” (laughs) I guess you can’t fool everyone.
MMM: Well, I guess that’s good they didn’t think it was a bunch of teenagers. That might have been a tough one to handle.
GM: Well, yeah. I’ve seen a lot of bands bandy about the term “old-school death metal,” but to me it really is just a term. They’re missing the whole vibe that I can’t really put into words. We were there, we did it, and we were involved in that early scene. It’s a vibe we can achieve but we can’t really explain. So yeah, I guess the fact that we’re old-timers (laughs), for lack of a better word, that probably helped.
MMM: Now you’re doing both guitar and vocals with Vallenfyre, as opposed to just playing guitar in Paradise Lost. Is this something you always wanted to do? Did you have that itch to front a band?
GM: Absolutely not. It’s something that never occurred to me in a million years, and it’s not something I imagined I would end up doing. I’m not really a mouthy guy, and I’m not really interested in being the center of attention, which usually is what vocalists are like. It kind of happened by accident, and I sort of became a reluctant vocalist. But I’m enjoying it, and it’s a new challenge. This album was borne out of my dad dying, and if that taught me one thing, it’s stop pontificating. Stop thinking about doing things and start actually doing them. What’s the worst that can happen, you know?
MMM: Well, let’s get into the album a little. “A Fragile King” … I don’t know if I should day it’s about your late father or it’s inspired by your father, so you tell me. Tell me what made you decide to make this record and how your father inspired you.
GM: It’s more for my father than about. The whole record is dedicated to him, but lyrically, only about 60 percent of the lyrics are about what I was going through, what I felt and what I thought when he was ill and the aftermath. It’s general observations and emotions and stuff like that. Some of it, some people have asked me if it feels weird putting it out there, but I think it’s better than keeping it inside. Also, why is it not OK to talk about this when it’s OK to talk about millions of other subjects that are as near to the bone? I just felt it was an important thing for me to do. It was a life-changing experience, and it made me want to do something.
MMM: Were the songs written after he passed away? Or was he aware you were working on what would become Vallenfyre and “A Fragile King”?
GM: No, because it really didn’t turn into a musical thing until a month or two after he’d gone. I started writing things down, feelings and stuff, when he was in the final stage, and that was a part of grief counseling really, but it wasn’t a thing where I thought, “Right, these are going to turn into songs.” That came slowly in the months following, and those thoughts turned into lyrics and then it turned into songs.
MMM: So it sounds like a really organic process.
GM: Absolutely. It’s just like the vocal thing you asked me about. I only became the vocalist because I couldn’t think of any of my friends whose vocals would fit with the music. As the lyrics progressed, I couldn’t imagine anyone else voicing those words. I just thought why not give it a go?
MMM: Was it cathartic for you to do the vocals? As you said, you wrote the words and you experienced this loss, so was it helpful for you to convey these emotions?
GM: I can say that while I was doing the demos for the music, yes. But when I was in the studio, I’d say it had turned into a straight tribute, and it was about having fun with friends, really. We just wanted to enjoy our time doing the recordings, and we all go back a long way. We’d never done anything together before, so it was fun just to do that.
MMM: Tell me a little bit about your father. What was your relationship like?
GM: He was cool. He was a really easy-going guy, a really affable guy. He was always kind of laughing about stuff and never took things too seriously. That’s how I aspire to be. It’s a great way to behave in life. People plan for the future too much, I think, and it’s a really daunting prospect. I think you should be happy for today and just roll with that. My dad was very much like that, and it’s a trait that hopefully I have in some aspects but I know I don’t have in others.
MMM: I thought I had read something about how he was into extreme metal or something along those lines?
GM: Well, that’s not quite accurate. But when I started Paradise Lost, he took a great interest in what I was doing, and he took it upon himself to actively pursue what I was doing. He drove us to our first few gigs, he drove us to our first demo recording, and he followed all of the things we did to the point where he started listening to other bands who we might be touring with. He said, “I really like the John Peel sessions on the radio by Bolt Thrower,” and that was purely because we were gigging with them at the time. It wasn’t the music he was into, but he followed the music that surrounded what we did.
MMM: You don’t always hear that kind of story from parents who have kids in bands.
GM: Yeah. He was an engineer by trade, and he was interested in how things work. So he became interested in how we did what we do.
MMM: What is the meaning of the title “A Fragile King” to you? Why did you choose that?
GM: It doesn’t have to do so much with the illness. It’s basically an observation where you look up to someone your whole life, and you kind of feel they’re invulnerable and nothing can ever happen to them. Then you’re faced with this stark reality where you see the person stripped bare, basically, and it becomes pretty raw. You build someone up so much that when you see the person get knocked down, it’s kind of shocking.
MMM: You’ve talked about the Vallenfyre lineup a bit and how you all came up in the same scene and knew one another. But how did these five people actually come together as Vallenfyre?
GM: Well, when I was writing a lot of the music, I’d travel a lot to my hometown to see family and friends, because it was still shortly after my dad died. So when I’d come home, I’d always end up at the pub with Hamish of My Dying Bride and having a few drinks. I’d mentioned to him I was working on this record and I was getting a little bogged down in it. It started to feel like I was wallowing. So we discussed the idea of turning it into a band and having fun with it. So he was the first person I asked to join, and we just started thinking about other people. Scoot I shared a house with about 20-something years ago, and I’d see him a lot when I went to my hometown, so it seemed obvious to ask him. The other guys just fell into place because they were friends of ours.
MMM: It sounds like the band came together much in the same way as the music.
GM: Yeah. I had a friend of mine working A&R at Century Media and I was talking to him about something else, Paradise Lost actually, and I mentioned I was doing this thing with some friends of mine. He asked to hear a demo, and I sent him a five-track demo, and he said, “You really ought to release an album of this.” I asked if anyone would want to hear it, so he played it for a couple of guys at Century and they told us we should do it.
MMM: Are you looking at this as a permanent band going forward? Is this a one-off? What are the plans?
GM: I’m looking at it as if we’re having fun doing it, we’ll continue. I have no expectations, none of us do, and like I said, it’s about having fun and stripping things back to the way they were when we were starting bands 20 years ago. If someone asks us to do a gig, and we can afford to do it, and all we get out of it is beer and a laugh, then we’ll do it. We have no plans to record anything else, but we’ll see how we feel a couple of years down the line.
MMM: So no touring plans at the moment?
GM: We’re getting offered stuff at the moment, and we’ll see where it goes. Oh, I mean, if someone offers us a tour and it looks like it might be fun, why not? We’ve gotten a few offers at the moment for tours in places like Finland and Greece and some festival appearances, but if I have one goal at the moment for Vallenfyre … I would really like to tour the States with this. In the process of doing interviews for this, I’ve noticed you guys missed out on a lot of the early European death metal, and there seems to be a hunger for it and a genuine understanding of it. I feel like Vallenfyre could help bridge that gap to 20-some years ago, but it’s going to take people going out, getting the record and pestering promoters.
MMM: Quickly to Paradise Lost, you guys have a new album in the works. Anything you can share?
GM: I’m actually talking to you from a studio in a converted chapel in the middle of nowhere recording the new album. We’ve only been here a few days so far. Adrian is about a third of the way through his drums, and I’m sitting around bored. There’s not even a pub here! There used to be a pub but it’s closed for refurbishments, so we’re kind of banging our heads against the walls. And we’re here until mid-December.
MMM: So if the new Paradise Lost is a little angrier, I guess we’ll know why?
GM: (laughs) No, it’s not angrier. It’s actually more melodic than the last one, but a little more guitar-oriented. There are no keyboards on it, and it’s more inspired by classic metal and classic doom metal. There’s a lot of lead work on it, a lot of harmonics, some acoustic stuff, more riffs. Doing Vallenfyre, I sort of realized where that line ends and Paradise Lost begins. It made me feel more positive and confident with what I’m doing with Paradise Lost. Had I not done Vallenfyre, some things might have leaked into Paradise Lost, and that wouldn’t have been fair to Paradise Lost or true to them.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.vallenfyre.com/
To buy “A Fragile King,” go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Artist/Vallenfyre/95067
For more on the label, go here: http://www.centurymedia.com/