The buzz around Portland, Oregon quartet, Lord Dying, is vibrant enough to send ripples through the magazine pages of old media. Formed in 2010, their third album, Mysterium Tremendum (2019), landed critical acclaim, so it comes as no surprise that their fourth effort comes with the backing of a big label like MNRK Heavy. Former drummers of this band have played in Prong and YOB, and one of their former bassists made it into Armored Saint for a brief spell. Now, they unleash new four-stringer, Alyssa Mocere (ex-Eight Bells), and Tithe sticksman, Kevin Swartz, for their first studio recordings with the band. Are you ready for fifty-eight minutes of a concept album about a sentient being who achieves his aim of dying and exploring the afterworld?
The slow pull offs and blissful pitch bends in the intro to ‘The Universe Is Weeping’ suggest that this will be a prog metal album with as many textures as Rush. Here, colourful guitar riffing combines with harsh snarling vocals to produce a paradox that oozes with coherence. A sharp drum tempo thuds in the mix like shiny new farm machinery. The surprise reset to dual vocal harmonies in an A Cappello style at 03:50 will catch you off guard. You might make comparisons to Baroness in a rare moment of clarity. But if this leaves you with an itchy scalp, the follow up will need no patience. ‘I AM NOTHING I AM EVERYTHING’ uses a more forceful guitar and drum interplay with false fry scream vocals from Erik Olson that rasp like a human trapped in a demonic state of possession. Listen to the bass-heavy chug of the guitars at the two-minute mark as a second axe explores the higher register melodies. You can identify a clear Celtic Frost influence here circa Monotheist. Mocere’s bass is loud enough to cause cracks in the pavement. Svarts’ tom drum accents thunder under the rhythmic formation of a musical incantation. Where did the sudden transition to malevolent death metal come from? It’s a pleasure to be dragged into a rabid Morbid Angel/Hate Eternal onslaught with no warning at the last hurdle.
Lord Dying’s main purpose seems to be that of second-guessing the listener with different personalities. This works in their favour in the first half of the record. Low-range goth vocals project over an exhilarating drum beat and rolling bassline like a post-punk band covering Type O Negative in ‘Unto Becoming’. The licks of spittle escape through the gaps in Olson’s teeth like an animal eyeing up an easy picking in the food chain. By contrast, ‘Final Push into the Sun’ mixes black metal posturing with crazed-smile vocals and gives way to a gory thrash metal attack with Megadeth riffs and grisly vocals. Yet there’s always a shade of hard rock heroism among the perfidious parts of this music. Darkthrone will enjoy this song in their rehearsal room of AC/DC and Iron Maiden posters. The drum production is perfect – not overly enhanced in the mix but crisp enough to hit the orange decibel levels on your EQ dashboard.
Only one thing stays at the back of your mind throughout the narrative. Is this record too long for its own good? The sound of the prog bass and drum sequence is not far away from Faith No More’s more experimental rock moments on Sol Invictus in ‘Dancing on the Emptiness’. Lord Dying search for the epic rock voice of their forefathers in this song, but they avoid imitation by cranking up the bass and fretting their arpeggios like Opeth’s more recent work. It conjures images of defiant space travel against all odds. The quartet make you wait for an enthralling blaze of metal rather than overload you with it from the first to the last note. Pentatonic solos fly through your speakers like the medium level of difficulty in Guitar Hero.
You can’t fault the imagination or the band’s virtuous respect for letting you gather your thoughts as you absorb their music. Lord Dying rush nothing on this record. ‘A Bond Broken by Death’ is progressive rock with acoustic strumming and busy drum patterns that provide the foundations for an effortless vocal line of wonderful recall. Pallbearer explored something similar on their last album. The comparisons to Katatonia are inevitable here, but the vocals are more like recent Borknagar records. Part two of this composition explores an Intronaut vibe with Led Zeppelin’s embroidery. Guitars screech like wounded animals in the lead parts. ‘Break in the Clouds (In the Darkness of Our Minds)’ follows as easily as boots squelch through wet mud. A blackened thrash assault threatens to break through the gaps in the walls, but the vocal harmonies keep them in an astral state of being.
Unfortunately, the last three cuts are more of a toil. AC/DC receive an effervescent coating of heavy metal in the opening riff to ‘Soul Metamorphosis’ before the ghoulish vocals enter and find a Queensrӱche alcove to meditate. Olson’s gory vocal pollutions lack the stomach to produce the frightful effect intended and need to rely on the mixing desk to bring them up to full volume. A diminishing ratio of head-banging delights at this stage of the LP holds it back. ‘Swimming in the Absence’ is better. It saunters in a gothic meditation bereft of hope and unearths a hidden power of melancholia in the process. Closing song, ‘The Endless Road Home’, feels like Tom Waits imagining a gothic caricature for his celebrity fans to worship.
Clandestine Transcendence deserves praise for its ambition and imagination, but it falls just short of an instant classic. Nevertheless, you’d be foolish to ignore it.
Release Date: 19/01/2024
Record Label: MNRK Heavy
Standout tracks: I AM NOTHING I AM EVERYTHING; Final Push into the Sun; A Bond Broken by Death
Suggested Further Listening: Opeth – In Cauda Venenum (2019), Darkthrone – Astral Fortress (2022), Baroness – Stone (2023)