By now, the origin of Lumbar has quickly become legend. In its complete recording form, Lumbar is instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge, who’s joined by Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle on vocals and vocals/recording, respectively. These are names of considerable consequence to have attached to a project. Between Doyle‘s pedigree in TAD and the awaited Brothers of the Sonic Cloth and Scheidt standing as one of his generation’s most innovative luminaries in doom (doominaries?) for his tenure over the last decade-plus in YOB, even before you get to rattle off the long list of projects in which Edge has taken part — Iamthethorn, Harkonen, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Himsa, Grievous, Maple Forum alums Roareth, countless others, and even more when you factor in those to whom he’s contributed art or design work — it’s hard not to be sold beforehand on Lumbar‘s Southern Lord debut, The First and Last Days of Unwelcome. On personnel alone, it’s a landmark, but the real crux of the album isn’t in some supergroup amalgam of ego. It’s in the intensely personal nature of the material. As Edge explained in an interview here, most of The First and Last Days of Unwelcome came together during a period of immobility following his being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. 40 days in bed. No stranger to self-recording, Edge programmed the drums, fired up a Verellen Skyhammer preamp pedal and transposed 24 minutes’ worth of visceral human experience into seven varied tracks that are at times hopeful, at times oppressive and defeated, but always essentially, deeply his own. After the parts were recorded, he brought them to Scheidt, who in turn suggested they track with Doyle at his Studio Witch Ape in Washington. The First and Last Days of Unwelcome is impossible to divorce from this context, because it is the context, and knowing how it happened, the raw circumstance of how it was made, the freshness of the wounds driving it, brings a level of admiration to the project with which even its lineup can’t hope to compete.
I won’t feign impartiality. Between having helped Roareth put out their first and only record through this site’s in-house label — it was the first release, actually, and my conversations with Edge are good memories that were pivotal in making it happen — and having been in touch over the years with Scheidt as well as being a fan of his and Doyle‘s work, there’s just no way I can pretend to approach Lumbar from neutral ground. Generally, I look at that as a drawback, but in the case of The First and Last Days of Unwelcome and how personal the nature of the album is, I think it actually helps. For years and years, Edge has bounced from one project to the next — even as I type this he’s looking for a band to sing for in Portland — but aside from being arguably the highest-profile, Lumbar might also be the most his own of everything he’s done. The expression in these songs, whether it’s the desperate cloying that begins centerpiece “Day Four” or the explosion of rage that emerges from it, is his. And the claustrophobia of “Day Five,” in which the world seems to be happening somewhere outside the echo chamber of the song itself, isn’t impartial. There’s no distance to Lumbar whatsoever, no moment where the artist responsible has stepped back and said, “I’m going to write about this experience.” That’s not what The First and Last Days of Unwelcome is. Instead, each of these pieces is a transcription of a moment or a stretch of this time. Some, like “Day One,” “Day Two” (the tracklisting corresponding with the days) and “Day Six,” are transposed as relatively complete song ideas — the vocal and instrumental arrangements satisfy as finished products — but not everything is designed to be so neat. The drumless “Day Three” works around a frantic guitar-as-fiddle progression that seethes with tension waiting to boil over as a low rumble rises beneath, Edge shouting, “Why are you here?” from within the morass. He’s low in the mix, overwhelmed at first, and comes forward only as the song itself works to an end of echoing heartbeats and droning, and the aforementioned “Day Five” is a postcard from some unspoken level of hell that conveys its agonies and is gone. No verses or choruses; atmospheres and impressions. Front to back, it is a brief — again, just 24 minutes — but haunting listen.