VallVallenfyre’s debut ‘A Fragile King’ was one of my favourite albums of the past few years, although I wondered whether it would be best left as a standalone body of work. The songs that comprised it were born through grief as Greg Mackintosh mourned the loss of his father, and what began as a cathartic exercise in converting his feelings and emotions to paper soon evolved into some remarkable music with assistance from a few good friends. Writing and performing with Vallenfyre proved to be the best release for Greg’s emotions and as such it was only a matter of time before he assembled the troops to do it all again. ‘Splinters’ is an evolution of the Vallenfyre sound, looking to take the abrasive doom crust sound of the debut and adding further aggression and violence. This is not for the faint hearted.

Opening with a Celtic Frost style blast of discordant feedback, ‘Scabs’ begins in a deceptively morose and miserable manner before assaulting you with the musical equivalent of a hard boot up the arse as the song kicks in to a high and aggressive gear. The low rumbling bassline of Scoot Stickleback reverberates in your gut as two of the finest guitar players in the whole of the doom genre clearly thrive on the energy of playing outside of their usual styles, laying down a hard and dirty death crust groove. Clearly drawing influence from the likes of Terrorizer and Grave, it’s an initial assault on the senses that makes your blood race. The pace slows to a gloomier level for the stunning ‘Bereft’, as Mackintosh and Hamish Glencross showcase their doom chops with some beautifully miserable riffs and wailing melodies. Just as you’ve settled into the slower groove you get blindsided by the full-on blitzkrieg of ‘Instinct Slaughter’ with its Napalm Death and Discharge influenced riotousness. It’s clear at this point that drummer Adrian Erlandsson must have been having a fantastic time on this album as he gets the chance to really show off his full range and devastating precision.

Even though I can’t really fault the songwriting on ‘A Fragile King’, things have clearly taken a step forward here as Mackintosh has a clearer idea of the definition of Vallenfyre as a band, and the songs now are an evolution of the sounds and ideas of the debut. Everything has been knocked up (or down) a notch as required. You’ve also really got to hand it to Kurt Ballou, who nailed it with the mix and the production, which is not simply raw and aggressive, it’s atmospheric and imposing in a way that makes for uncomfortable listening, and that is exactly what this should be.

‘Splinters’ is an absolutely exhausting and incredibly rewarding album. It takes you through so many musical styles and emotions without ever losing cohesion, and in doing so it has given Vallenfyre a definite identity and sound all of their own. As such a fan of the first album I was a little nervous when I heard this was on the way, especially given how personal a work ‘A Fragile King’ was. I would rather they left that alone than release anything that didn’t stand up to it. I was a fool to ever doubt. ‘Splinters’ is a triumph in every respect and is a very strong contender for my album of the year.

(10/10 Lee Kimber)