Lord Dying, Poisoned Altars: Wounds and Open Sores

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Portland, Oregon’s Lord Dying deliver an efficient sludge-thrash beatdown on their second album for Relapse, Poisoned Altars. The follow-up to their 2013 debut, the Sanford Parker-recorded Summon the Faithless, the eight-track/34-minute Poisoned Altars was recorded by Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust and arrives as the answer to anyone’s question as to just what Lord Dying were spending so much time on the road for, shifting away from some of the High on Fire-worship of their debut — side B’s “Offering Pain (and an Open Minded Center)” and “Suckling at the Teat of a She-Beast” will still fill any quota thereof — while beginning to feel out a more individualized sonic space. Sludge metal prevails, with dual emphasis. In their sound and their cover art, Lord Dying have espoused a penchant for the extreme, and Poisoned Altars, from its opening title-track down through the just-under-seven-minute finale “Darkness Remains,” holds firm to that, but there’s also an emerging rock groove in a track like “A Wound outside of Time” to contend with, and “An Open Sore”‘s second-half bridge brings in Aaron Beam from tourmates and apparent buds Red Fang for a guest appearance noteworthy both for Red Fang‘s profile at this point and for the upbeat catchiness of that part itself. Ultimately, even this fits into Lord Dying‘s stripped-down pummel, from which shades of Matt Pike and Kirk Windstein are never far, but as an example of the band’s growth since their debut, it’s hard to ignore. Ditto that for Poisoned Altars itself, which at the proper volume moves between nods and headbangs in commanding fashion, Lord Dying seeming, in defiance of their moniker, to thrive all the while.

That the album breaks so neatly into two sides with four tracks each is only further indication of its prevailing lack of pretentiousness. Lord Dying know why they’re there, and you know why they’re there — or otherwise they’re going to make it quickly apparent. “Poisoned Altars” itself makes a solid opener in setting up the tempo shifts and tradeoffs between riff styles that guitarist/vocalist Erik Olson, guitarist Chris Evans, bassist Don Capuano and drummer Rob Shaffer (formerly of Dark Castle and seemingly since out of the band, replaced by Nickolis Parks) toy with throughout subsequent tracks. Olson is clearly trying to expand his vocal reach from the Pike/Windstein snarl, and should be commended for both the effort and the result. Their sound being largely straightforward — that is, there’s little flourish or trickery involved in what they do — one can’t help but wonder if Lord Dying see a trap ahead of them in getting too boxed into “what they do,” and if parts of Poisoned Altars aren’t working, consciously or not, to expand those bounds. The opener and “The Clearing at the End of the Path” bludgeon neatly, but with the more open-grooving “A Wound outside of Time” and “An Open Sore” behind them, side A isn’t even done before Lord Dying are working toward a broader reach. This could just be a result of their extensive touring playing out in the progression of their style, or it could be something done on purpose to avoid stagnation. Either way, it’s noteworthy growth from an already vicious style that seems unwilling to relent its extremity. Those who dug Summon the Faithless‘ heaviest moments will no doubt find comfort in those of Poisoned AltarsLord Dying are growing, but not at the expense of what worked so well on their debut.

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Arranged shortest to longest, side B continues the push with a midsection solo giving way to raw-throated screams and a classic thrash riff that slows and speeds up to lead into the all-out drive of “Suckling at the Teat of a She-Beast,” an album highlight. It trades back and forth between Slayerized tension and a familiar gallop, but particularly in the context of what surrounds and with a change in vocals (not sure if that’s Olson switching approaches or a second guest appearance), it works with metallic righteousness. “(All Hopes of a New Day) …Extinguished” follows, the second parenthetical title on side B and the penultimate of the record, with a slowdown that, next to “Suckling at the Teat of a She-Beast,” emphasizes the two sides of Lord Dying‘s sound and the extremity that ties them together on Poisoned Altars‘ sprint-to-the-finish back half. Past a minute in, “Darkness Remains” hits the most Crowbarian moment here present in a particularly strained bark from Olson, but by then, the point has been so nailed down that one would hardly blink at it. They shift into an instrumental concluding movement — lead and rhythm guitars intertwining fluidly; the solo is a standout — and end by deconstructing the tight riffing by fading it into a swell of rumbling amp noise that concludes the album without further word. They’re gone as brutally as they arrived, but Lord Dying nonetheless leave the impression of a turn to come. Particularly with their habit of hard touring, Poisoned Altars seems to have set them up for a pivotal moment to come as they bring the progression here to further fruition their next time out. It will be their third record that determines ultimately their course as a band, but their second serves as much more than a placeholder in affirming the payoff of the effort they’ve put in on the road thus far. It is evolution won the hard way.

Lord Dying, Poisoned Altars (2015)

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Lord Dying at Relapse Records

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