Hailing from Birmingham, Opium Lord have recently released their latest LP Vore on Sludgelord Records and it seems suitably off-kilter to fit right in at home there. Saying that, it could equally have fitted right into Earache’s roster circa 1990. I spent a couple of listens trying to think who they reminded me of, only to realise the kind of bands that were coming to mind were the likes of Godflesh and Pitchshifter. There’s plenty of other strangeness going on that keeps the listener interested as well as a couple of niggling irritants.
Opener WWCD comes in on a gloomy raft of doomgazey guitar, heavily reverbed and pretty dense. Right from the off, it reminds me of Earth, circa Hex…. Like deformed delta blues slowly crawling over broken whiskey bottles dragging the still shimmering corpse of Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail behind it. The vocals blast in, a wave of anguish and torment and the chiming guitars build in intensity. I’m sensing I’m in for a pretty bleak journey with this album. Second track, Lead Magnet blasts any subtlety out of the water; everything is nastier, heavier and dirtier than the opener. Downtuned, sludgy filth with the anguished vocals now taking a far more malevolent tone. The vocals have a blackened howl to them. The bass and guitars downtuned and distorted to create a hypnotic whirlpool of dirt that makes you want to topple over.
Centurion comes marching along, all triggered drums and filthy distortion. This is where things really start to remind me of Earache artists from the early 90s. The vocals vary between verging on black metal’s charred screaming and gruff death metal grunts. I’m not sure if the band operate on a ‘one high, one low’ two vocalists template or if the singer just has a range of fry techniques that he can put to use. Similarly with Suture, more nasty, almost industrial sounding rhythms and riffs that sound like tortured blues, all dragged down with a massive dirty bass tone.
more nasty, almost industrial sounding rhythms and riffs that sound like tortured blues, all dragged down with a massive dirty bass tone…
Sherwood Is Connector changes the pace enough to keep things interesting musically. Sorry to mention the dreaded ‘DoomGaze’ again, but I’m a sucker for effects drenched doomy riffs and some of the guitar tone and chord sequences in the middle eight of this track sound almost ambient. This is very very good stuff, like Boards Of Canada being sucked into a black hole. It sneaks in on the tail of some barely controlled feedback and leaves in the wake of some proper horrible wobbly dirty bass and drums that sound like a hellish juggernaut ticking over. When you hear the range of sonic palette Opium Lord can deploy and still keep up a sustained atmosphere of negative feeling, you get an indication of how focussed Vore is. This track and the following Colombia are the high points for me.
Perhaps Colombia also serves to point out one of the niggles I have with the album. It features the sepulchral whisper of Mike Scheidt of Yob on guest vocals. This is where the contrast in vocals works really well. At some points in the album I’ve found myself thinking about whether it’s just my jaded ear that would have liked some cleaner vocals. The scream/gruff vocals sometimes put me in mind of a thousand small town ‘extreme’ bands – all neck tattoos and Northface jackets, hunched over a microphone, screaming ’til their arses pop. It’s an intrusive suggestion but one that I can’t altogether shake out of my head and that’s a pity because Opium Lord are so much more than that. I can appreciate it can be difficult to sustain an atmosphere throughout an entire album but Colombia shows how effective a wide timbre of vocal styles can be, rather than the shorthand of one high/one low which can sometimes be an overplayed style.
But anyways, to end on a high note Gift brings the album to a close with the melancholy elegance of the opening track, a beautiful, wistful riff reaches out a desperate drowning hand before being dragged under the waves. Vore might not be THE best album of the year, but it will certainly be in my personal top ten releases of 2019.
Scribed by: Gordon Cameron