Interview with Greg Mackintosh: Singer of Vallenfyre and guitarist of Paradise Lost
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Paradise Lost’s riff-master, Greg Mackintosh, still has the old school death/doom metal spirit left. Besides Paradise Lost, Mackintosh formed another band called Vallenfyre which is pure old school death/doom metal worship. Vallenfyre recently visited Finland by doing the debut gig in front of 300 enthusiastic metallers. The gig truly offered a real flashback to the heyday of the 80’s/90’s death metal. Metal-Rules.com had an utter privilege to talk to Mr Mackintosh before the show.
Welcome to Finland. This is one of the coldest days here right now, but basically I personally don’t care as I love this wintertime more than the summer time.
Right. It’s just as long as you don’t have to go out for too long. It’s not too bad for five minutes, but after that it starts to hurt the ears and things like that.
I just read that it’s minus ten in England and there is some kind of national emergency!?
We were saying this, when we were landing, because we kept more of, you know, frozen legs and things like that when we were landing at the airport. There’s ice all over the airport and we were saying England would be closed if this happened. Nothing went wrong.
I can’t help asking that, what’s the point of having the first gig here, because you’re from England and I think it would be more realistic to have your first gig in your home country. I guess you have a strong bond in Finland?
We’ve always – Well, in the early the Paradise Lost days,we always had more in common, really, with a lot of people in mainland Europe. Some of our early touring experiences were in Holland and places like that. And obviously we came to Finland pretty damn early, early on when Lepakko was on, it was…hmm
I think it was 1992.
Yeah. So I mean we’d only been going just over three or four years, so it was pretty early. We always used to just have an affinity in the English scene. There are friends there and we did gigs there, but it was kind of…the fans were very at the time -This is early death metal scene I am talking about – kind of liked to pull you down. They went to the gigs, but they always, afterwards, kind of pulled you down. They never really did that anywhere else.
I remember you playing in 1992 with Corporal Punishment.
That’s right, yeah. I loved Corporal Punishment.
Then you opened for Sepultura in 1993.
Yep, That’s right.
You will be doing festival dates with Vallenfyre and Paradise Lost at Brutal Assault, Party San and the Metalcamp festival. Do you think that you will be able to do more slots with both bands Vallenfyre and Paradise Lost and do you think it would be possible to tour together like Gary Holt did Exodus and Slayer?
Obviously I’ll be asked that. Even now, my management company, regardless, it’s not something I’m interested in doing and I just want to keep it totally separate. I don’t want to try to feed off of Paradise Lost’s popularity or vice versa or anything; I’d rather keep it totally separate, because it’s a separate thing to me. It’s something that I do with friends, perform, and I want to do gigs as long as it’s fun. If it’s fun to do. So I’m not interested in doing six weeks in somewhere with Paradise Lost going around, because it just wouldn’t be my idea of what I set out to do with Vallenfyre. I do want to do a lot more gigs with Vallenfyre, but I’d rather just be approached to do the gigs. If someone’s interested enough and said, “C’mon, come do a gig. Even if it doesn’t make any money, just go because people want to see you there.”
This is basically a “Do It Yourself” thing?
Yeah, I mean today we’ve borrowed this pop band’s bass rig. We had to ask Blackstar to bring the amps down. It’s kind of pretty…It’s nothing like I’m used to with Paradise Lost, but it’s kind of exciting in a way, because it’s kind of like the old days.
I was about to ask if it takes you back to the old days when you were young and hungry getting on the stage for the first time, do you have the same kind of feeling with Vallenfyre right now?
Yeah, kind of. Yeah, cause obviously I’m doing a different thing than what I’m used to doing as well; it’s not like just going on playing the guitar. We’re definitely throwing ourselves at the deep end. We’ve already had two rehearsals. As a band, altogether, at once. So, it’s kind of going in blind and seeing what happens. It’s always really exciting. It could become a car crash, but I think we’ll be okay. As long as there are some people there I think we’ll be okay.
Being a front man is a new thing for you in a live situation. So have you thought about how you are able to survive first the gig?
No, I think the more you think about it, the more preplanned it will become. I’d rather just see what happens. If something pops into my head to say to the audience, I’ll just say it. If I feel like doing something I’ll do it. But I never really liked it, when I saw bands and they did the same thing every night, said the same thing every night. I never really liked that. So I want to avoid that, you know?
Regarding Vallenfyre, has it been on your mind for a long time to create another metal band, or playing other types of metal besides Paradise Lost, or did this Vallenfyre idea come in a spontaneous way for you?
It’s a type of music. Like I said, you probably heard me say last time, it’s what I grew up with, so yeah, it’s always there, but no, nothing was planned. There was definitely no plan to make a band. It was just something that just happened purely, because I suddenly got the drive to do it. Here’s something I’ve kind of always in the background loved, and I know very well; I think it was a combination of getting the drive to do it from my dad dying and also, kind of disappointment in modern death metal, for me. I’m disappointed by it. I love a lot of hard core, a lot of crusty stuff; I love a lot of slightly death metal stuff, but that early death doom stuff, no one’s really doing it right, I think.
As for your dad, you have spoken very openly about your father in interviews, but is Vallenfyre your way to express the sadness and the sorrow?
It was at first. It was for the first…When I first started writing the songs and the lyrics, especially, it was definitely just a vent, just venting and stuff. But then when the other guys start becoming involved it turned into something more of a reminiscing, doing something that we used to love, and making fresh again. You know, it became less about wallowing in sorrow, more about celebrating something else. So I still see it as a tribute to my dad. I see it more as just something that he would be proud about turning around into something else. Not really…Not all the songs on there are completely about life and death sorts of things.
I read that you started writing songs in a two year period. Did you start writing songs when your father fell ill or did you already have the songs in storage?
No, what happened was my dad became very ill and I started to have counseling. In the grief counseling they tell you to write things down, so I started just writing things down. Then he died, and I wrote more things down. And these eventually turned into lyrics, parts of lyrics and things like that. And then I kind of started the old school thing, where I listened to my old demos and getting it all together, and I thought, “Oh, I’ll get a few songs out of this.” And it all kind of snowballed, none of this was planned.
I was wondering when reading your interview, because my dad passed away in 2004 and I kept listening to a lot of music back then, if the writing and composing music for you a way to express your feelings?
Absolutely. Absolutely. The reason I just didn’t put it all into writing in another Paradise Lost record is because, you know – you said your dad died – There’s a lot of anger there, and you don’t know what to do with it. You don’t know why you’re angry, in fact, sometimes. I couldn’t put down Paradise Lost like, “I want to do something with it, I want to channel it into something.” And I guess that’s why it’s so much more extreme, the Vallenfyre stuff. There’s a lot of anger in there as well as sadness and whatever else.
You said that you are disappointed at current death metal things. But when listening to Vallenfyre I was like, “Hold on. This is a complete flashback to the early days of the Swedish death metal.” It sounds like Entombed/Nihilist, Dismember etc coming to my mind immediately. I guess you draw some influences from the Swedish death metal?
Some influences. But equally as much influence from various other European doom and death metal bands and hardcore and crusty bands as well. It’s kind of the production that makes people think instantly, “Oh, it’s all Swedish” but it’s not. I love Nihilist, Carnage and stuff, but I also love Hellhammer and Discharge and Antisect. Early Candlemass and Trouble and stuff like that. Just trying to put it all together, you know.
You recorded the album in a few takes more like in a spontaneous way. You didn’t waste of time, weeks and weeks in a recording studio. Could you tell me more about the recording thing?
Well, we did it…It did actually take a long time to record but not in one piece because everyone was doing other things, “so we’ve got a couple of days, can everyone meet at James’ house tonight.” The guy doing the live song tonight is the guy whose place we recorded the album at. He’s got a studio. We just went down there every time we had some free days. It was more to me about catching a vibe than totally getting everything right and perfect. Which is why it’s a lot quicker to record that way, because you think, “Yeah, that’s a good take. I don’t really care that it’s sliding in and out of tune right there.” I don’t care, you know, and that’s how it was back then. So I didn’t deliberately want to make the album sound shit because I’ve seen another trend where “we have to sound like those old demos.” Make your sound deliberately shit. What those people don’t realize is when we were all back there doing those demos we weren’t trying to sound shit. We were trying to sound as good as we possibly could, we just didn’t have the know-how, there wasn’t the production techniques, you know, it’s just naiveté. You can’t recreate naiveté. It’s either there or it isn’t, so I didn’t want to do that, because it would be insincere. So I’d have a good-sounding record but with all the vibe and the elements of what were there.
Before the album, you got the 7-inch out. It’s quite rare nowadays, because you have MySpace and everything where you can upload your songs. What was the reason for having seven inch?
It was a kind of old dream of mine. I just thought…I don’t go in for any social networking. I have no contact with a hotmail account. That’s it. But I’m still like that. It’s not that I’m a technophobe. I love technology but I just can’t be bothered. I don’t want to say hello to people if I don’t want to say hello to them. And I realize it’s a great marketing tool but I really don’t go in for it. So it was really cool for me to say, “Yes! I’ve got a seven inch out”
It is like your old childhood dream, because you never got the seven inch out.
The nearest we got was a flexidisk.
Yeah, I remember that.
That’s the nearest we got, but we never released a seven inch
The debut album has got good response and high rating in magazines and stuff like that. Are you kind of surprised by that, all of a sudden magazines are interested in Vallenfyre, the debut album and getting a good response. Did you expect that?
No, we didn’t expect anything at all. I’m still…I kind of take it all worth a pinch of salt, you know. It’s nice to get good reviews but I don’t really take that much notice in it. And I don’t think there’s that much interest in it. I don’t know, is there? I have no idea. We’re doing our first gig tonight. I don’t know really, but there seems to be a good buzz going around the underground about the record, which is great because I guess that’s the kind of thing I would have liked to happen. There’s no expectations for it, there’s no time plan, no length of time that we’re going to stay together. I don’t know. There’s no plans to record anything else. We don’t know.
The line-up of Vallenfyre consists members from other known bands. I wonder if you will be considered a supergroup?
It doesn’t bother me; it’s not a true representation, because it happens to be a bunch of guy who are just friends… A lot of us grew up together and we just happened to be in all the bands. We just all were passionate about this scene, and we all just happened to stay in certain bands over the years. So it’s more of a coincidence than anything, but I did meet people who could play instruments and, usually, more often than not, they play in a band. There’s no big plan, and “supergroup” suggests that Bono and things like that…
Paradise Lost is getting a new album called TRAGIC IDOL out – What can we expect from the next Paradise Lost album as every album has been different anyway?
Yes, I would say it really is the core of the Paradise Lost sound around out ICON time. If you liked the song “True Belief” you’ll probably like this album. The last guy asked me “Did it make me change the way I wrote.” No – It helped me define clearly what I should be concentrating on in Paradise Lost, and gave me a very clear vision. Yeah, there’s no keyboards on it, it’s very kind of guitar-driven but not, not heavier than the last album; probably more melodic than the last album. It’s hard to explain, but I would say it’s like, I very rarely play the same thing as Aaron on the guitar. It’s very much like some part ICON beats. The DRACONIAN TIMES thing we did helped kind of shift my idea on things a little bit, because I didn’t really want to go down the path. The one we did the stuff and wow, it really was a good record. It helped define the songwriting a little bit as well.
You’re working with Jens Borgen again – he was the right guy in the right place ?
Yeah, I mean, because it wasn’t our plan to work with Jens Bogren again on this record, but when we wrote the record, we thought, “Jens really loves that era of Paradise Lost.” He was a fan then. He said he had posters up, and he’s a great producer. We thought, “What better guy to get, really, you know? He gets what it was meant to be.” We’re not trying to recreate anything, far from it. We’re just trying to narrow it down, the core of what we think our sound is.
So Jens is working with Kreator on the new album.
Adrian Erlandsson is now an official member of the band, because he wasn’t in the lineup of the previous album at all.
No, it’s weird. He auditioned and got in the band before we recorded it, but we had already asked Pete Damin to do the album with us.
What happened to Lee Morris, then? Because he was in the band a long time, maybe ten years.
Yes, he went slightly insane.
He turned to God.
Oh really? And he left the band then?
No, we kicked him out.
There is a new version of DRACONIAN TIMES out by Century Media and you did the whole album live. I remember reading your interview from Metal-Rules.com in 2007, when you said that you are not willing to do the whole album live like Dio did HOLY DIVER, but what changed your mind then?
I must say I still think it was a bad idea, right up until we did the first show I though, “Oh god, I can’t believe we’re doing this.” And I thought “sellout, sellout, terrible idea.” Just during the show and after the first show, it made me realize that it’s not all about what I want. There are some people in the audience that were too young to see it when we first played, there are people in the audience who haven’t been to a metal gig since we last played in Times Live. So, you know, it has a special place for certain people, and who am I to not do that for them? It’s a piece of history, I’ll do it. I’m not saying I’d like to do it again because I wouldn’t, but I think it’s something that was an interesting experiment for the time we did it.
Please name your five, the most essential, your favorite death and doom metal hard metal bands that inspired you in the first place.
MORBID TALES by Celtic Frost, EPICUS DOOMICUS METALLICUS by Candlemass, Trouble’s PSLAM 9, Death and Doom..hmm…Well Death SCREAM BLOODY GORE got to be on there, really. Doom or Death, I’ll tell you what was really instrumental. I wouldn’t say it was an essential record of mine, but it’s an often overlooked band in Dream Death.
Dream Death ! I remember them, they were from Chicago.
They were, I think, the first band to mix death metal and doom metal together. I think they were, cause I can’t find an earlier one.
As for Celtic Frost – did you check out the MONOTHEIST album?
I love it. It’s a lot better than I thought it would be and I’d say there’s three or four really good songs on it. It’s got a good feel to it. It’s missing something, I don’t know what.
Did you manage to see them on the stage ?
Yeah, because a friend of mine was playing guitar at the time. So, yeah, I went to it a couple of times. I just saw Triptykon last summer play a festival; they played it as well.
I think that Triptykon is more extreme and more depressive than Celtic Frost, what do you think?
Yeah, yeah, probably. I mean Celtic Frost had a little bit of groove to it at times, you know. Probably more hardcore influences as well. So, yeah, it’s a lot darker I would say. Well we did this festival and that was kind of half Celtic Frost songs and half Triptykon songs.
I thank you for your time and see you at the Finnish Metal Expo with Paradise Lost.