With the music industry’s grasping, unabated hunger for profit continuing to push acts of genuine substance and character ever further onto the outlying fringes and peripheries of the scene, it’s easy to take a dim view of the present state of modern metal. But just when it seemed that the genre had been all but reduced to a mewling, meekly inoffensive shadow of its former glory, iconic guitarist Greg Mackintosh explains why the deliciously sinister, subterranean sounds of Strigoi might just convince you otherwise…
“I think mainstream metal music is like the new pop music, I don’t believe it’s in the slightest bit dangerous at all nowadays,” notes extreme metal icon Gregor Mackintosh on the ever-accelerating mellowing and dilution of a genre once notorious for its grittily uncompromising edge. Indeed, having long been admired as a relentlessly active and passionate leading luminary of the genre, it’s fair to say that Mackintosh has witnessed more than his share of stylistic shifts and passing trends since starting out with Yorkshire doom legends Paradise Lost back in 1988. With his involvement in this now-iconic act alone spanning a bewildering multitude of different incarnations and sonic influences, the multi-talented musician is only too keenly aware of the famously fickle nature of the industry in which he’s been operating for the past 30-plus years.
Having also spent the better part of the past decade carefully cultivating the intensely visceral, crust-laden horrors of cult metal project Vallenfyre, there’s no mistaking Gregor’s dedication to crafting extreme music of the most unflinchingly vicious and authentic calibre imaginable. But for all the immense creative fulfilment and liberating catharsis to have been derived from this deliciously dark and brutalising venture, its creator was equally quick to recognise the sonic limitations of this intense, but ultimately very finite phase of his career. Finding himself eager to advance into increasingly challenging and diverse sonic territories, the year 2018 brought with it the birth of a fresh and hugely inspiring new creative chapter.
“We had a lot of fun doing it, but we always knew it was a finite thing because of the sentiment attached to it,” Greg remarks of the recent demise of Vallenfyre. “After having a trilogy of records and being able to tour America and various other places, we were very happy with what we’d accomplished and wanted to just leave it there after that, really. Strigoi is kind of a natural progression on from that, but at the same time we wanted to give it its own identity and worked really hard on it to ensure it didn’t become just a Vallenfyre number 4 album. Our focus was on bringing in more diverse influences, things that wouldn’t have necessarily sat that well in Vallenfyre that actually work in something like Strigoi. For example, something like early industrial influences make an appearance in Strigoi, and so does a little bit of black metal. We’ve kind of mixed it up in there and tried to make it stick; the songwriting process is very much trial and error, and we don’t want to overdo any one particular element. The main thing for us is the feeling that runs through it. It could be any type of song and we felt the name Strigoi suited that ambiguity very well. It could be anything - a goth band, it could be black metal. It doesn’t pigeonhole it too much and I think with Strigoi it’s purely just about that theme, that feeling of deep unease and foreboding.”
With this lawless, genre-transcending entity rather aptly taking its name from that of a restless Romanian spirit, every pulverising, coldly abrasive inch of Strigoi audibly bristles with compositional ingenuity and blackly absorbing vision. Opening up Vallenfyre’s intensely visceral but sonically limiting repertoire into a daringly varied array of fresh musical influences and atmospherics, the deliciously sinister ‘Carved Into the Skin’ marked Mackintosh’s first tentative steps into these uncharted new creative territories.
Greg elaborates, “That was the initial concept and ‘Carved Into the Skin’ was actually the first track I wrote for that record and originally I was planning to do a whole album of stuff like that, but it just took twists and turns and ended up as it did. Anyway, ‘Carved…’ was the first thing I did for Strigoi though, and I was kind of just testing the waters with this one - whether this would sound good, whether that would sound good, how far it was from the concept of Vallenfyre and how far I could push it. It was all a bit of an experiment really. I was trying out these dissonant guitar lines and seeing what worked and what didn’t because, as I said, it was all about this feeling that was running through the whole album and that all started with ‘Carved into the Skin’ and as we went forward, we tried to introduce that quality into every song but also to try to stick to the central theme. I think the song ‘Phantoms’ - together with the video track - helped us focus and realise what the band actually was, a kind of middle-ground of our sound.”
From the cranium-smashing brutality and dark, devilishly elongated guitar leads of the record-defining ‘Phantoms’ and ‘Seven Crowns’s’ manic, D-beat-laden battery through to ‘Carved Into The Skin’s’ dissonant, coldly unravelling atmospherics, newly unleashed long-player ‘Abandon All Faith’ is a record unmistakably awash with deeply disquieting horror and unease. Driven by the most unspeakably sinister of cosmic energies, there’s no mistaking the monstrously pervasive aura of darkness that unites all these myriad shades of incandescent rage and crippling existential dread. Underpinning a collectively intoxicating blend of music, bleakly poetic lyricism, ghoulish visuals and meticulously rendered music videos, the year 2020 brings with it the tantalising prospect of witnessing what promises to be a truly electrifying live debut.
“‘Carved Into the Skin’ is actually one of my personal favourites and it should be very good live as well,” he enthuses. “A lot of people don’t really - especially at festivals - play their doomy stuff too much, but with Vallenfyre, it’s what we thrived on doing and the slower the better because it just makes you stand out from the crowd too if anything. So I can’t wait to play this stuff live. The music, the lyrics, the video, the artwork - the whole concept is one thing really and we want to try to carry that on live. Whereas Vallenfyre was a very grassroots, crust punky-type thing and very chaotic live, with Strigoi we want to make it, for want of a better word, theatrical. We want to carry this concept for Strigoi on in a live sense too. At the same time I’ve got a pretty good cheese filter too so, at the same time, I really want to avoid overly theatrical stuff because I really don’t like that either. So yeah, we’re planning those stage shows as we speak and I’m currently putting together the live band which will hopefully be ready by next year.”
'Abandon All Faith' is out now via Nuclear Blast
Pick up your copy HERE