Progressive sludge maestros Lord Dying increase their appetite for musical strength and virtuosity, kickstarting the new year with skull-crushing brutality.

Release date: January 19, 2024 | MNRK | FacebookBandcamp

Aficionados of epicness and brutality, Portland, Oregon’s Lord Dying have a knack for delivering powerful, brain-melting riffs whilst combining a great level of instrumental complexity and diversity that bridges a gap between progressive and raw in their sound. The band have long exercised their sonic palate to incorporate the grim sludge metal riffage of Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity whilst delving into radical musical territories familiar in the likes of Mastodon and High on Fire. Previous records such as 2015’s Poisoned Alters and 2019’s Mysterium Tremendum demonstrated this notable merging of sludge progressive metal with grandeur and triumph. Yet, for the founding members Erik Olson and Chris Evans, the trademark sound of the band seems to be one which is embedded in the philosophy of ever-evolving and rooted in sonic exploration. Something that is evident throughout the duration of 2024’s Clandestine Transcendence, a new feat for the band that sees the brutality of Evans and Olson’s epic riff complexions, accompanied by the rhythmic intensity of bassist Alyssa Mocere and drummer Kevin Swartz, develop into something unlike what the band have accomplished.

An extensive selection of music is on display here at first it can almost feel quite overwhelming to sit through, but make no mistake: each of these tracks is perfectly hand-crafted with precise musicianship and a melding of extreme metal genres. “The Universe is Weeping” is a great introductory track that foreshadows atmospheric tension for the album whilst encompassing a cosmic intensity through powerful instrumentation and epic backing vocals that lead the track into the furious, death metal-infused “I am Nothing, I am Everything”. The band are clearly able to expand on their progressive sound, utilising low death growls and noise-ridden feedback. “Unto Becoming” explores more cosmic territory, which encompasses interesting post-punk aesthetics and progressive rhythmic song structures, such is an excellent use of Olson’s dynamic vocal range that shifts between harsh and clean delivery.

As the record moves on, “Final Push into the Sun” takes a more direct approach that resembles the band’s trademark progressive sludge sound, bringing with it a vicious thrash onslaught well resonant of High on Fire’s Matt Pike’s guitar work. The band further looking to employ unconventional aspects to many of these tracks that emulate the tense cosmic narrative that focusses on the central character ‘The Dreamer’. Explained by Olson as ‘an immortal being that wants to die’, The Dreamer faces a perturbing interstellar journey that pushes beyond the outer limits of mortality and death in order to get that wish. Preceding tracks “Dancing on the Emptiness” and “Facing the Incomprehensible” elevate this narrative through a diverse range of instrumentation that explores subtle timbral shifts, chromatic melody lines, and dense, phased ambiences.

An intermission, “A Brief Return to Physical Form” utilises a range of lenient acoustic and folk-infused guitar passages that form mysterious atmospheres and build up into the track “A Bond Broken by Death”, which borrows from more classic rock leanings whilst succumbing to dissonant progressive breaks to implicate the universe’s predilection for disorder. Following in a similar fashion, “Break in the Clouds (In the Darkness in Our Minds)” expands on the album’s dreamer narrative in which the protagonist is confronted with the inner turmoil of their existence and through a barrage of harmonic virtuosity and external sonic force, experiences the unforgiving forces of the universe working inside their mind. A sudden change in dynamics is introduced in “Soul Metamorphosis” with harsh, raspy vocal effects and stressed chord structures seem to function as a means of personifying the dreamer’s monstrous transition into a damning outworld entity, experiencing the cosmic grief and unknown terror.

This concept album takes its final form with massive proportion, giving emphasis on intricate melodic hooks and extended song structures. “Swimming in the Absence” underlines a tragic end for our protagonist being supposedly lost in the deep vacuum of a mysterious and unforgiving cosmic realm, it could also perhaps act as a metaphor for the unexplainable suffering one experiences in their own mind. “The Endless Road Home” further expands on these themes on a final blow out with mournful melodic guitar work and some rather poetic vocal work form Olson, the apprehensive feedback dampens the atmosphere and the trudging rhythmic accompaniment brings this final song together leaving the listener with a sense of alienation and empathy for the hopeless dreamer abandoned in a timeless vortex.

Through sheer marksmanship and a thoroughly dedicated songwriting process, Lord Dying are on their way to being one of progressive metal’s most established and popular acts. Despite showing an ambition to expand on musical styles, incorporating a range of genres that encompass more alienating and minimalist elements and hybridising such with complexity and virtuosic precision, Clandestine Transcendence doesn’t lose track of who the band are and still exercises a scale of brutality, enormity, and melancholy that those familiar with Lord Dying’s early work will appreciate. Not only that, but the album also excellently conceptualises a world beyond our own engaging in various sonic tropes that blur the lines between extra-terrestrial fantasy and harsh realism.

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