Review & Track Premiere: Lord, Desperation Finds Hunger in All Men

Lord Desperation Finds Hunger in all Men

[Click play above to stream ‘Mutilation Rites’ from Lord’s Desperation Finds Hunger in All Men. Album is out Aug. 24 via Heavy Hound Records.]

As though in a direct effort to feed the gluttons for punishment, Southern sludge metal extremists Lord return with their third album in three years. Issued as their fifth full-length overall through longtime outlet Heavy Hound Records, the 10-track Desperation Finds Hunger in all Men is a beast unto itself within the Lord catalog. While I don’t know if there’s a vinyl release planned, it’s probably fair to call it a double-album anyway, since at 66 minutes it’s more than twice as long as the Fredricksburg, Virginia, outfit’s previous outing, last year’s Blacklisted (review here). I don’t want to harp on it, since ultimately the length of the release is more a symptom of Lord‘s deeply varied and expansive stylistic expression, rather than a cause of it. That is, they’re writing longer songs because the songs have gotten longer, not because they sat down and wanted to write longer songs. But it’s a striking shift after the last record, and nothing they’ve done to-date, whether it was 2016’s Awake (review here), 2011’s Chief (review here), 2007’s Built Lord Tough or anything else along the way, has touched that kind of length.

Brief though it was, Blacklisted was especially striking in the maturity and the sense of consciousness it brought to Lord‘s often chaotic approach, blending elements of thrash, sludge, doom, death metal, noise, Southern metal, etc., as it does. Without giving up their sense of abrasion or brutal edge, Lord were nonetheless able to wield their sound as a weapon — I’ve been back and forth in my head calling that weapon sharp or bludgeoning, but the truth is it can be either depending on the track — and to shape their material into something that built on what they’d done before and still held that rawness at its core. Part of that, of course, came down to the vocals of Steven “Frank Palkoski” Kerchner, whose soul shines through in both his harshest screams on opener “No Sunrise on the Third,” the growls and shouts of “At First I Didn’t Believe It” and the utterly vicious “Have a Look for Yourself” and in the cleaner singing on “Whispering Snakes,” “Scorched” and the 12-minute experimentalist closer “This Lonesome Linger,” which pulls back the distortion on Chris Dugay‘s bass and Willy Rivera and Todd Weurhmann‘s guitars and the fury in Tony Petrocelly‘s drumming to finish semi-acoustic despite an underlying tension as a bass drum thuds to signify the shift into the track’s near-operatic — yup — midsection, marked out by layers of guest vocals accompanying Kerchner, who also provides the percussion. Like the album as a whole, it is not a minor undertaking.

Nor is it meant to be. Engineered by Petrocelly — who’s since left the band only to be replaced by Jesse Hottle, who’s also left and been replaced for shows by, wait, Petrocelly, as well as Tommy Emanuel, while the band looks for a permanent drummer; so it goes — Desperation Finds Hunger in All Men is easily the strongest production Lord have ever had. Whether it’s the noise at the start of the tracks, the heft that emerges in 10-minute side-A-or-LP-1 finale “La Fleur du Cobalt” or the arrangement of vocals atop the rolling lumber of the later “Mutilation Rites,” Lord‘s aural assault has never seemed more thoughtful than it does here, and the sound is crisp and clear in “Nature Knows No Kings” despite the wash of noise that comprises so much of the song, and rather than work against the band’s extremity, it only enhances it, bringing it into focus in much the same way the songwriting seems to have grown in its purposefulness. Lyrical themes of oppression show up throughout, though a decent amount of the vocals — the growls especially so — are largely indecipherable, but what comes through is delivered with sincerity and rather than a celebration of brutality as so much of extreme metal can be, Lord bring a critical eye and an examination both thoughtful and inward as well as outward.

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To wit, the one-minute interlude that follows “La Fleur du Cobalt,” simply dubbed “August 11, 2017,” arguably the most striking piece on the record. With no instruments, it is simply an insect-song-backed succession of voices describing a person’s journey through suicidal depression and out the other side. In all seriousness, when it ended with the line “Today started out well,” I damn near wept. It gives way immediately to the stomp and metallic riffing of “Whispering Snakes,” but the effect in terms of mood-setting remains, and holds firm even as the second half of Desperation Finds Hunger in All Men moves into the nine-plus-minute “Mutilation Rites” and the penultimate “Have a Look for Yourself,” which bashes its count-in and from there unleashes a three-minute torrent of trashing intensity, galloping drums beneath circle-headbang riffs, growls and gang-shouts, and an air-tight execution that, even when it releases the tension it’s built, still seems to be grasping the listener by the throat. This, like the rest of the record surrounding and like “This Lonesome Linger” afterward, is done willfully.

I’ll cop to being a Lord fan. Happily. And while I might quibble with the facts of the title “Nature Knows No Kings” — true there’s no royal hierarchy specifically, but dominance is found in varying forms everywhere in nature whether it’s the head of a pack, an invasive plant species or one animal eating another; this is not an intrinsic justification for capitalist or governmental oppression; don’t get me wrong: no gods, no masters — I acknowledge that I hear Desperation Finds Hunger in All Men with a limited-at-best level of impartiality. Even granted that I think it’s a fair observation to say this is simultaneously Lord‘s broadest-ranging and most cohesive achievement yet, and especially as the third offering since Awake seemed to truly signal a new era for the band — their preceding EP, 2014’s Alive in Golgotha (review here), might be considered a prelude — it brings their attack to another level of refinement.

It would be easy to listen to Desperation Finds Hunger in All Men and celebrate it for its extremity, for the righteousness of its aggression. And I’m not arguing against that. What shouldn’t be lost in that experience is an appreciation for the intent behind that extremity, because that’s what truly signifies how far Lord have come and their continuing drive to progress as a group. There’s always going to be chaos in their heart. It’s how they hone it and what they craft from it that makes them such a special band.

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