Born of the same fertile sub-Mason Dixon underground that’s previously given rise to acts like Ol’ Scratch, Valkyrie, Vog and others you might see opening any given weekend for Weedeater or Earthride at Krug’s Place in Frederick, Maryland – essentially the home of doom on the Eastern Seaboard – Virginia’s Fire Faithful and the recently reinvigorated Lord join forces on the self-released Refuge for the Recluse split. These and bands from other locales like Caltrop, Backwoods Payback and OSSM have formed a network of post-Alabama Thunderpussy Southern metal, tinged to various degrees with stoner and doom elements, angry in different measures, but a cohesive scene nonetheless, so it’s not really a surprise that two acts would get together for a split. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time it’s happened.
Each band gets three songs to show off, and Fire Faithful (formerly known as Southern Vein) begin in force with “Company Loves Misery,” a doom ethic brought to life with tried and true shuffle riffage courtesy of guitarist Dave Marrs, thick bass from Shane Rippey, the smooth drum fills of Joss Sallade and the decidedly metallic vocals of Brandon Malone, who peppers his bottom-of-the-mouth melodic approach with occasional screams. There’s something downtrodden in his voice that sits well over the more midpaced “Now We’ve Made a Memory,” and when he says, “Let me help rest your worried soul,” it sounds genuine. The production on Fire Faithful’s half of Refuge for the Recluse turns out less than fortunate in terms of the drum sounds as compares to Lord, but the sullenness of “Fire Faithful” comes across anyway as the track’s heaviness ebbs and flows. Their three songs are a gradual decline in mood, like a drunken night that starts out partying and ends with your wife pulled over to the side of the highway so I can puke my guts out at three in the morning. I’ve said too much.
If there’s one good thing to come out of the demise of Ol’ Scratch, it’s new Lord material. I’d not encountered them since Built Lord Tough and 2006’s Under the Sign of the Maker’s Mark, and though there’s only been one member change since then, the music has undergone a considerable shift. New bassist Helena “Hell-in-ya” Goldberg also adds vocals to the mix, and as her voice interplays with the growls of Andy “Ghandi” Murray on “E.M.P.,” the stylistic development Lord have undertaken is palpable and readily evident in the songs, which are shorter than Fire Faithful’s but no less effective. Guitarists Willy “Will-Kill” Rivera and Mike “The Wizard” Meeks, the latter since departed, offer a tight start and stop to “The Green Giant” (they got the “giant” part right, but I have to believe this is killing the environment in one way or another) while Goldberg ably takes the lead vocal for the first half of the song, giving way to Murray on the faster, lead-infused back half. Meeks handled the recording himself, and he brings out the character of the band best on their closer “Witchdoctor Malpractice,” where tonal thickness meets vocal quirkiness and the whole thing wraps in pure VA groove that I can just now hear coming through the P.A. at Stoner Hands of Doom. Killer.
Having long been a proponent of this scene’s metal leanings, I’m glad to see Fire Faithful come out with three strong tracks that showcase their ability to write material that’s either catchy or depressive on a whim, and just knowing Lord are out there destroying whatever lays in their path is comforting like an air conditioner on a humid day. I view Refuge for the Recluse basically like a combined sampler. Both Fire Faithful and Lord have new wares to hock, so they’ve teamed up and each act gets to do that while also supporting their friends and the scene as a whole. And even though they’re both doom acts from the same region, the differences between the bands come across in their songs provide an example of the stylistic diversity at play. What Fire Faith and Lord prove to have most in common on Refuge for the Recluse is how well they’re each set up for whatever they want to do next. Here’s looking forward.Fire Faithful, Fredricksburg, Lord, Richmond, Unsigned bands, Virginia