[Click play above to stream ‘The Heart of a Hero’ from Lord’s new album, Blacklisted, out May 26 via Heavy Hound Records.]
A year is easily the fastest turnaround Lord have ever had between albums, so their latest, Blacklisted, arrives with immediate intrigue. Not only that, but I’m fairly certain it also marks the first time the band has had two full-length releases with the same lineup playing — the other in this instance being 2016’s Awake (review here), which was five years after 2011’s Chief (review here), which was four after 2007’s Built Lord Tough debut. They’ve had other offerings along the way like the 2014 EP, Alive in Golgotha (review here), issued as is Blacklisted through the band-affiliated Heavy Hound Records, and earlier demos and splits, but yes, that Blacklisted exists and finds Lord working with the returning lineup of founding guitarist Will Rivera along with vocalist Stephen Kerchner, guitarist Todd Wuehrmann, bassist Chris Dugay and drummer Kevin Marimow is something of a surprise.
And that extends likewise to the execution of the six-track/28-minute full-length as well. The Fredericksburg, Virginia-based outfit, who recorded this time at Adept Audio Lab with Sean Sanford, have always basked and reveled and wallowed in chaos. From their songcraft to their lineup to the fact that for many points between records one has often been left wondering if they’re still a band — not so much between Awake and Blacklisted, obviously, but in the past — Lord have been as nebulous and difficult to chart as their aesthetic has been destructive, proffering a blend of hardcore punk, grind, sludge, Southern metal and thrash as it seemingly followed whatever whims of extremity happened to occur for any given riff. That unhinged feel has been a part of their drive since their inception, and should rightly be considered a defining element of the band.
All of this is leading, of course, to the fact that Blacklisted is the most cohesive and arguably the least chaotic release they’ve ever put out, and somehow, that becomes its strength as it bull-charges through songs like opener “Mile After Mile,” the furious “They Lied” and the mournful penultimate cut “The Heart of a Hero.” That’s not to say Lord don’t still proffer riffs in torrential onslaught — they’re not 30 seconds into “Mile After Mile” before that reassurance is granted — just that their sense of control in doing so has never come through so plainly. With Kerchner backed by Wuehrmann (and maybe Rivera) on vocals, Lord flesh out arrangements of screams, growls and effects-laden shouts to go with the Southern metal lead style of the guitars and the forward-shoving rhythm.
“Mile After Mile” is the shortest piece on Blacklisted at 3:52 — closer “Not Your Problem?” is the longest, at 6:25 — and it feels tight to the point of being almost spare, casting off frills in favor of a raw thrust that continues in “They Lied,” which makes a hook of its title line, and “The Bandage,” which starts out as the most tumultuous grinder on the record before departing, just past the 1:40 mark, into an open groove and a build back toward full heft that features not only the best solo work here, but also at its end the most fluid transition, leading back to the song’s maddening, blasting sprint. Momentum feels all the more on Lord‘s side because the album is short, and they seem to be through the first three tracks before the listener has had time to process, so indeed, still plenty of attack in their approach, but it’s the precision and the sense of intention behind what they’re doing that makes Blacklisted the most accomplished and realized Lord outing to-date.
The thrashing title-track picks up where “The Bandage” left off and mounts an assault of its own, playing between chugging groove and windmill-worthy squibbly riffing, growls and shouts emanating from beneath the guitars and bass as Marimow plows ahead. Seems fitting enough that the last half-minute or so of “Blacklisted” would be dedicated solely to feedback, because noise has always been an essential part of Lord‘s take, and because it seems to draw the first-four-cuts section of the record to a close ahead of the marked tempo shift that “The Heart of a Hero” brings, slowing down and riding a weighted but less outwardly brutal progression. There’s an emotional core behind the verse and chorus, somewhat obscured by what remains a vicious sonic core, but after a longer solo bridge, Kerchner‘s vocals return to underscore the expressive point and round out with a sense of structure before a last-measure slowdown brings the song to a no-less-resonant close.
Well placed, that departure is key to the album after “Mile After Mile,” “They Lied,” “The Bandage” and “Blacklisted,” but Lord return to more scathing ground with “Not Your Problem?,” beginning the finale with something of a cultural indictment in the lyrics — the most clearly audible on the release — over the drums before the guitars and bass join in. While less of a hurricane than, say, “The Bandage,” “Not Your Problem?” seems to find a middle-ground between that song and “The Heart of a Hero” and in so doing summarizes much of what’s working across Blacklisted while issuing a directive in what’s probably as much a “Lord riff” as can be heard here, the sharp-but-winding thrashiness of Rivera‘s style shining through as they make their way toward the last, cold finish as if to tell their audience that there’s no way they’re actually done.
That may in fact be the case, and Lord could turn around and have another full-length out in 2018 with the same players returning. Maybe, after more than a decade, they’ve found a way to sustain a balance between their aural and existential uproar. As someone who’s been a fan of the band since their early demo work, I hope all the more that’s the case given the direction Blacklisted shows them as taking, since while it expands their dynamic and brings them to levels of clarity never before heard from them, it also maintains the spirit of the work they’ve done before it, drawing strength from the experience of all that bludgeoning of days gone by.