[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.
Posted in Reviews on December 27th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Feeling good going into day two of the Quarterly Review. The good news about how heavy music has become such a vast universe is that there’s always plenty to cover without having to really dig into stuff I don’t find interesting. Of course, the other side of that is feeling constantly behind the curve and overwhelmed by it all, but let’s not talk about that for the moment. Point is that as we make our way through this week and into the next — because, remember, it’s six days this time, not five — a big part of me still feels like I’m just scratching the surface of everything that’s out there. It still seems just to be a fraction of the whole story being told around the world in the riffiest of languages. We all do what we can, I guess. Let’s get started.
Quarterly Review #11-20:
Red Fang, Only Ghosts
Four albums into one of the decade’s most successful and influential heavy rock careers, doesn’t it seem like Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang are due for a truly great record? Their 2013 outing, Whales and Leeches (discussed here), was rushed by the band’s own admission – their focus, as ever, on touring – and Only Ghosts (on Relapse) unites them with producer Ross Robinson and mixer Joe Barresi, two considerable names to bring heft and presence to the 10-track/42-minute outing. And I’ve no doubt that “Shadows” and the bigger-grooving “The Smell of the Sound” and opener “Flies” kick ass when delivered from the stage, and it’s true they sound more considered with the ambience of “Flames” positioned early, but Only Ghosts still comes across like a collection of songs united mostly by the timeframe in which they were written. Doesn’t mean they don’t build on Whales and Leeches, but now five years on from 2011’s Murder the Mountains (review here), and with their dynamic, charged and momentum-driven sound firmly established, Red Fang still seem to be at the threshold of some crucial forward step rather than stomping all over it as one might hope.
After releasing a self-titled debut (review here) and the follow-up Andromeda (review here) in 2014, 2016’s Sea of Clouds (on Crispin Glover/Stickman) is the third proper studio full-length from Norway’s Black Moon Circle – though at that point, define “proper.” In 2015, the trio/four-piece – Trondheim-based guitarist Vemund Engan, bassist Øyvin Engan and drummer Per Andreas Gulbrandsen, plus Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective on synth – also released The Studio Jams Vol. I (discussed here) and in addition to the four tracks of Sea of Clouds, they’ve also had a Vol. II (review here) out this year. The definitions become fluid, is what I’m saying, and that couldn’t be more appropriate for the sound of “Lunar Rocket,” the outward-gazing space rock of “The Magnificent Dude,” “Moondog” and “Warp Speed,” which indeed offer enough kosmiche expanse to make one wonder where the song ends and the jam begins. Or, you know, reality. One has to wonder if Black Moon Circle might bridge the gap at some point between studio improv and more plotted songwriting, but as it stands, neither side of their dual personality fails to engage with its flow and drift.
A one-sided 12” EP issued by STB Records in late 2015 as the follow-up to Richmond dirge-fuzzer trio Druglord’s debut album, Enter Venus (review here), the three-track Deepest Regrets represents the band’s final studio material with bassist Greta Brinkman (ex-L7) in the lineup, who’s since been replaced by Julian Cook. That distinction matters in no small part because so much of Druglord’s purposes on Deepest Regrets’ three component songs – “Regret to Dismember,” “Speedballs to Hell” and “Heaven Tonight” – is about reveling in low end. Rawer than was the album preceding, they find guitarist/vocalist/organist Tommy Hamilton, Brinkman and drummer Bobby Hufnell emitting an oozing lurch, blasting out thickened motor-riffing, and fortifying a darkly psychedelic drear – in that order. True to EP form, each song gives a sampling of some of what Druglord has to offer coming off the album, and with a recording job by Garrett Morris, who also helmed the LP, it remains a fair look at where they might head next, despite the shift in lineup.
Melbourne’s Holy Serpent return with Temples (on RidingEasy), their second full-length after 2015’s self-titled debut (review here), and continue to offer an engaging blend of well-blazed psychedelia and heavier-rolling groove. Especially considering they’ve still only been a band for two years, the four-piece of guitarists Nick Donoughue and Scott Penberthy (the latter also vocals), bassist Dave Barlett and Lance Leembrugen remain striking in their cohesion of purpose, and Temples opener “Purification by Fire” and ensuing cuts like the fuzz-wall centerpiece “Toward the Sands” and echo-laden “The Black Stone” only continue to stretch their intentions toward ever more acid-ic flow. They called it “shroom doom” last time out, and seem to have moved away from that self-branding, but however one wants to label Temples, its five tracks/43 minutes push ahead from where Holy Serpent were just a year ago and, rounding out with the slower churn of “Sativan Harvest,” still reminds that mind expansion and deeply weighted tonecraft are by no means mutually exclusive.
Self-releasing Croatian instrumental trio Drone Hunter devise vigilantly straightforward riffing on their second album, Welcome to the Hole, finding room for some charm in titles like “Wine Dick,” “Crazy Ants with Shotguns” and the closing “A Burning Sensation,” the latter of which seems to draw particularly from the playbook of Karma to Burn. That comparison is almost inevitable for any riff-led/sans-vocal three-piece working in this form, but the crunch in “Fog Horn” and “Waltz of the Iron Countess” isn’t without its own personality either, and as with a host of acts from the Croatian underground, they seem to have a current of metal to their approach that, in the case of Welcome to the Hole, only makes the entire affair seem tighter and more precise while maintaining tonal presence. Fitz (guitar), Klen (bass) and Rus (drums) might not be much for words or last names, but their sophomore full-length comprises solid riffs and grooves and doesn’t seem to ask anything more than a nod from its audience. A price easily paid.
Lugweight is comprised solely of Brooklyn-via-Richmond-Virginia transplant Eric Benson, and the project makes its full-length debut with the evocatively-titled drone wash of Yesterday following one EP and preceding another. Fair to call it an experimental release, since that’s kind of the nature of the aesthetic, but Benson demonstrates a pretty clear notion of the sort of noise he’s interested in making, and there’s plenty of it on Yesterday in “Sleeping on Cocaine,” on which one can hear the undulating wavelengths emanating from speaker cones, or the penultimate “Love Song for the Insane,” which features chanting vocals in echoes cutting through a tonal morass but still somehow obscure. A 33-minute five-tracker, Yesterday doesn’t overstay its welcome, but alternates between sonic horrors and warmer immersion in the shorter centerpiece “Bleed My Sorrow” and closer “Show Me Where the Shovel Is,” coming dangerously close in the latter to doom riffing that one might almost dare to put drums to. Solo drone guitar, even when this thick, is never for everyone, but one doubts Benson was shooting for accessibility anyhow.
To hear Australia’s Megaritual tell it, the 25-minute single-song Eclipse EP was recorded on Mt. Jerusalem in New South Wales this past summer, the one-man outfit of vocalist/guitarist/sitarist/drummer Dale Paul Walker working with bassist/Monotronist Govinda Das to follow-up his prior two Mantra Music EPs, recently compiled onto an LP (review here) by White Dwarf Records. Whether or not that’s the case, “Eclipse” itself is suitably mountainous, building along a linear course from sea level to a grand peak with droning patience and gradual volume swells, lush and immersive psychedelia in slow-motion trails, a sparse verse, percussion, sitar, guitar, bass, and so on coming to a glorious vista around the 17:30 mark only to recede again circa six minutes later in a more precipitous dropoff. The digital edition (and that’s the only edition thus far) comes with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” which makes good company for the hypnotic titular exploration and the quick progression it represents after the other two short releases.
Heavy psychedelic pastoralists Red Lama enter the conversation of 2016’s best debut albums with Dreams are Free, initially released on All Good Clean Records and subsequently picked up by Stickman. Leaning more toward the liquid end of psych-blues, the Danish seven-piece immediately transcend with opener “Inca” (video here) and quickly showcase a subtlety for build that only gets more potent as they move through “Sonic Revolution” and “The World is Yours,” unfolding due heft in the latter without losing the laid back sensibility that the vocals bring sweetly, melodically, to the material. The later “Mekong River” seems almost like it’s going to shoegaze itself into post-rock oblivion, but Red Lama hold their sound together even into the 10-minute closer “Dalai Delay” – aptly-titled twice over – and deliver with striking patience a languid flow with hints of underlying prog experimentation. How that will come to fruition will have to remain to be seen/heard, but Dreams are Free also dips into funkier groove on “Dar Enteha,” so while they probably could be if they were feeling lazy, Red Lama don’t at all seem to be finished growing. All the better.
Lacy is an experimental solo-project from former Lord guitarist Stephen Sullivan, based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and part of a deep sludge underground that goes back well over a decade. Andromeda is his third album with the outfit and the second to be released in 2016, though unlike the preceding Volume 2. Blue, its 12 tracks were recorded in a matter of months, not years. All instruments, arrangements, vocals and the raw recording were handled by Sullivan himself (he also took the photo on the cover) but cuts like “Gyre Hell” and the acoustic “Push Me Away” veer around self-indulgence or hyper-navelgazing – I’d call “Offal and the Goat Brains” experimental, but not narcissistic – and he seems more interested in writing songs than making a show of being outside this or that imaginary box. Still, Andromeda offers diversity of instrumentation and arrangement, unplugging once more for “Healer” before closer “Always” finishes the album as a rumbling and grunge-laden love song.
After catching on late to German metallers Valborg’s 2015 fifth album, Romantik, I told myself I wasn’t going to miss whatever they did next. The single Werwolf (on Temple of Torturous and Zeitgeister) might be a quick check-in of just two songs – “Ich Bin Total” and “Werwolf” itself – but the classic European-style death-doom chug of the latter and the vicious crash of the former I still consider a reward for keeping an eye out. “Ich Bin Total” is less than three and a half minutes long, and “Werwolf” just over five, but both feature choice chug riffing, darkened atmospherics and art-metal growls that only add to the clenched-teeth intensity of the instruments surrounding. They spare neither impact nor ambience nor lives as Werwolf plays out, the title cut riding its massive progression forward to a sensory-overload of nod before finally offering some release to the tension in a second-half guitar lead, only to revive the brutality once more, repetitions of “werwolf” chanted in growls over it. Awesome.
Posted in Reviews on March 25th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
It’s been five years since tumultuous Virginian outfit Lord issued their last album, and that’s long enough. That album was 2011’s Chief (review here) and it revamped their lineup from their 2007 debut, Built Lord Tough. Their third long-player, Awake, largely does likewise, finding founding guitarist/vocalist Willy Rivera and returning lead vocalist Steven Kerchner (also synth) joined by guitarist/vocalist Todd Weurhmann, bassist Chris Dugay and drummer Kevin “Skip” Marimow. Recorded by Vince Burke (Beaten Back to Pure) at his Sniper Studios and released through Heavy Hound Records, there’s a half-decade-later sense of continuity between Chief and the seven tracks/39 minutes that comprise Awake, at least in the band’s stormbringing intent toward Southern sludge, grind and heavy riffing, but at the same time, the new release sees Lord move into a different class of presentation, melodies creeping into songs like “Reset the Wave” and more complex arrangements marking out the acoustic-led “Great Communicator.”
Lord still wield no shortage of fire and fury throughout Awake — the arrival of which was preceded by the 2014 EP, Alive in Golgotha (review here) — as “Breathe,” “Strangers on the Road” and the apex of the closing title-track demonstrate, but although the band’s approach has always been multifaceted, it’s more mature here, and from the initial rush of opener “No Explanations Necessary” through the thrashing turns of “Reset the Wave,” there is a corresponding sense of Lord holding the reins on their own style, which is something they haven’t done before to such a degree. It would be hard to argue they don’t still let loose on plenty of this material, especially the aforementioned finale, but the context for what they do has deepened to a point of being about more than an onslaught.
As a result, even as “One Step Away” rages with blown-out shouts and scorching, abrasive synth squeals, it maintains a sense of forward direction pushing into its mid-paced bridge. Likewise, at Awake‘s open, Lord shift from gallop into a bigger-sounding slowdown that brings forward the vocal arrangements that become such a key element of their still-plenty-unhinged atmosphere throughout. With Rivera and Weurhmann behind Kerchner — whose already varied approach switches at a measure’s notice between an echoing croon, howls, screams and growls — the band explores a depth of layering that Alive in Golgotha and Chief, in hindsight, set in motion, but that Lord in their current incarnation make a calling card with these songs. As “Breathe” lays down highlight basslines from Dugay and a circular rhythmic pattern that borders on exhausting in its thrust, screams are patterned and interwoven so that the affect is even more chaotic. They’ve always been at home in a tempest.
“Breathe” offers one, and they follow-it with the strumming Southern ritualizing of “Great Communicator,” airy and unplugged, layers of vocals building as it moves through, holding back drums initially but unable to resist topping out with an electrified solo near the end, capping a fluid linear build that’s been playing out all along, one piece added to another to another. Interesting that Lord sandwich “Great Communicator” between “Breathe” and “Strangers on the Road,” which follows, since those two are arguably their most raucous inclusions here, but if their point is to make a contrast, they most definitely succeed, “Great Communicator” ending on fading echoes and drums and “Strangers on the Road” picking up with immediate growling guitars, stomping drums and an engulfing sprint into double-kick, death growls and two minutes of unrelenting intensity.
“Strangers on the Road” pulls back on the throttle somewhat as it moves through its midsection, but it’s a temporary shift, building back through a screamed-over solo toward the initial riotousness, which ends with a howl from Kerchner that bleeds right into “One Step Away,” the screams for which are backed by melodic echoing vocals for greater atmospheric presence. The threat is plain enough in the song’s title, but “One Step Away” never feels like it’s chestbeating or playing to anything other than its own mania in its early going, which settles into an exhale of chug in its second half, builds up again and finally seems to resign itself to a series of slowing crashes. Riding a more straightforward groove, “Reset the Wave” starts with a similar interplay of clean and harsh vocals, but establishes its own personality in its coinciding restraint and sludgy aggression. By the time they get around to the solo, Lord are thrashing again, and they meet that with sped-up viciousness, but the first half of the track seems to be setting the stage for that later aggression, various sides of the band being crashed against each other in a way that both works sonically and emphasizes the volatility that is very much still at the heart of what they do.
I don’t think there’s a point on Awake that brings that as much to light as “Awake” itself. The longest inclusion at 7:49 and the last statement, it takes all the madness preceding and seems to sing-along to itself in its first verses before turning through movements of guitar, manipulated vocals, screams, chug and churn, emerging momentarily from this tornado of its own making only to be drawn back in and upward toward some unknown but horrifying oblivion of nod, death growls, squibblies and crash, until finally the drums are the last remaining piece as everything else rumbles out and it seems like they’re still ready to run. The tension Lord work to their advantage throughout Awake works in very much the same way, and while this may be a more mature presentation from the band than even Alive in Golgotha showed, the fact that they can control their sound at all only highlights how underrated they are. No bowing to trend, no compromising vision, no stopping their progress. We may only get a new Lord record every four or five years, but that’s all the more reason to treasure them when they do show up.
I’ve been pretty up front all along about my enduring affection for Virginian chaos weavers Lord, so I feel no need to search for excuses for posting this live video of their full-set from this summer’s inaugural Maryland Doom Fest. I dig the band, so there you go. Last month, they updated about the progress for their new album, Awake, which will be the follow-up to last year’s Alive in Golgotha EP (review here) and 2011’s Chief (review here), saying that the mix had been finalized and they’d be setting a release date soon, but part of the excitement with Lord is that you never really know. They could drop it tomorrow or they could completely revamp their lineup (again) and take three years off. They’re Lord. They’re not kidding when they say “No Explanations Necessary.”
Unsurprisingly, they crushed it at the Maryland Doom Fest in front of a not-quite-hometown-but-certainly-familiar crowd, playing new material and old. They’ve reportedly started writing for the follow-up to Alive already, and they’ve continued to do regional live shows, playing with the likes of Fistula and The Osedax, so they’re keeping plenty busy while they wait on artwork and so on for the pending release. One never really knows how things are going to shake out with Lord until they’re already shook, but a surge in activity would definitely be welcome by me, as I’ve said before, and I think the live video below gives a pretty good sense of why as they push into realms of extreme sludge and grind that no one else seems to capture with the same thickness or intensity. If you get the chance to check it out, hope you dig.
Filming was done by Jim Rosenkrans of LeadFoot Productions. Setlist and other info follow:
Lord, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2015
Setlist: 1) breathe 2) what you may call the devil is amongst us 3) reset the wave 4) no explanations necessary 5) strangers on the road 6) one step away
The final mix for our new full length, Awake, has just been completed by Vince Burke! We’re hoping to get it out as quickly as possible. While we’re waiting on the final aspects (artwork, etc.), we’ve started writing new material and are already 2 songs deep into the next release. The fire’s been stoked and we’re keep the momentum going. Stay tuned for release info coming very soon!!!
Chris Dugay-Bass Willy Rivera-Guitars/Vocals Kevin “Skip” Marimow-Drums/Percussion Todd Weurhmann-Guitars/Vocals Steven Kerchner-Lead Vocals/Synths
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 14th, 2015 by JJ Koczan
It’s been about a year since Fredericksburg, Virginia, chaosbringers Lord streamed their latest EP, Alive in Golgotha, in this space, and while they’ve continued to have some lineup shifts and whatnot since, that’s nothing new. The band marks a decade of existence this year, and they’ve recorded a new LP called Awake with Vince Burke that as of their latest update is in the mastering stage and nearing completion (they have a new split in the works as well).
A release through the band-associated Heavy Hound Records seems likely, though one never knows exactly who or what to expect from Lord, or how to expect it, or when, but the progress is encouraging. Easy to imagine they could have Awake out before the end of the year, but if it winds up being 2016 by the time it’s pressed, that doesn’t seem unreasonable either.
Whenever it shows, new Lord is always welcome by me. I’ll keep an eye and when I hear of a definite release date, will let you know.
Some words from the band and live dates:
Just checkin in to let ya know what the LORD camp is gonna be up to for the next few months: We’re currently waiting for the final mix/master of our latest full length, Awake, from Vince Burke to see if we can move forward with the printing process.
The artwork will be handled by James Hanley this time around whose vision and visual aesthetic will help us move into the next phase of this band.We were originally planning to record a covers ep at our home studio but we decided to scrap that idea and instead focus our efforts into writing new material. The “new” line-up has truly developed some great chemistry and that’s bled into the writing process. We’re aiming to capitalize on the momentum we’ve been creating and the creativity we’ve tapped into with our latest release. We’re looking to focus on material for proposed split ep w/our buds in Dead Hand from Georgia and then moving onto to a new ep with a lyrical concept that Kerch has been working on since we left the studio.
We have a few shows lined up w/some great bands over the next few months that will bring us to the climax of the Brew & Fire Fest that will be taking place in the place where our history began, Fredericksburg, VA, back in 2005. That show will feature a bunch of great bands,many of them are vets from F’Burg’s old school scene who’ve gone on to make a name for themselves regionally.
We’re stoked to be a part of it and couldn’t be happier to be this busy after years of turbulence and strife. Cheers to all of you who’ve stayed loyal and supportive, we’ll never take that for granted…
09/19 Fat Tuesday’s, Fairfax, VA W/ Aurelian 10/09 The Sidebar, Baltimore, MD w/ Fistula, Fortress, Foehammer and Musket Hawk 11/14 Brew and Fire, KC’s Music Alley, Fredericksburg, VA w/ Foehammer, The Osedax and more