Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Fragile King - Vallenfyre - 2011

Where In Solitude's The World. The Flesh. The Devil. was essentially tribute rendered tepid, Swedish-style death-lovin' supergroup Vallenfyre's A Fragile King is a rousing success. A less-than-stellar line of middling recent releases had me doubting my one-time admiration for Century Media. Then along comes this allegiance of Paradise Lost (Gregor Mackintosh, vocals; Adrian Erlandsson, drums), Doom (Scoot, bass) and My Dying Bridge (Hamish Glencross, guitar), admittedly all bands I know more by name than by sound, and I'm impressed anew. Instantly recalling early Entombed (and maintaining that tone throughout), A Fragile King nonetheless forges a distinct identity from the outset and stands firmly on its own, launching one excellent song after another into the fearsome fray immediately conjured by the opening notes of "All Will Suffer." They will, indeed.

The story behind the record (and, I would guess, its title) is a downer, inspired by Mackintosh's loss of his father to cancer, but the catharsis exercised within is indeed effective. There's a genuine palpability to the anguish that permeates A Fragile King and the well of honest emotion from which the music springs cannot help but add an authenticity to the proceedings that propels it beyond the sea of other classic Swedish death throwback records that has flooded the landscape across the past few years.

"All Will Suffer" ably sets the table, eliminating any doubts as to the band's chemistry and capability within the genre. It is "Desecration," though, that chugs its way directly into the heart and permanently places Vallenfyre on the map. It's a heavily-layered, churning monster that serves as both a deathly headbanger and doom-tinged declaration of agony. It's perfectly heavy. Highlight "Cathedrals of Dread" begs for the listener to pull Clandestine off the shelf just to ensure it isn't a cover. The death-and-roll groove accomplished here is absolutely fantastic and follower "As the World Collapses" manages to sonically communicate exactly what its title suggests. It is physically impossible for the head to stay still during this aural Armageddon. It's not all Entombed emulation, though. A Fragile King manages insane injections of tempo and aggression (see "Humanity Wept") as well as a crawling, massively-scaled opera of pain ("Seeds"). Along the 40-minute journey that comprises A Fragile King Vallenfyre surpass revival and emerge instead as relevant.

There's a scene in Conan the Barbarian that fans will remember well. Pursued by a pack of hungry wolves, Conan takes refuge in an Atlantean crypt and comes across a massive dessicated corpse bearing a great broadsword. Conan seizes the ancient weapon and strikes it against the stone, breaking centuries of sediment from the surface of the blade and revealing the deadly power that still lies within. That's the essence of A Fragile King. The gifts of the forebears, a lineage traced through arms forged in ancient fires, the permanence of steel encapsulated and insulated in earth and rust that, every so often, needs shattered and shed so that blood may again be drawn anew.

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