Portland, Oregon’s Lord Dying have been in my periphery for a good few years now and seeing their latest MNRK Heavy release Clandestine Transcendence show up in the promo pool I took the opportunity to finally check them out. Masterminded by founding members Erik Olson on guitar/vocals and Chris Evans on guitar, they’re now joined by a pretty mighty rhythm section of Alyssa Maucere-Pike on bass and backing vocals (also worth noting Matt Pike’s wife) and Kevin Swartz on drums, has had plenty of praise heaped upon them with their previous releases; 2013s Summon The Faithless, 2015s Poisoned Altars and 2019s Mysterium Tremendum, although I came into to this review without hearing a single note prior.
I assumed, wrongly, Lord Dying were a stoner/doom metal band, so my eyebrows were raised when I saw the band described as ‘progressive sludge metal’. Well, after sitting with Clandestine Transcendence for a while, I’m here to say yes, that description is accurate. If I’m being honest, when I hear a band described as ‘progressive’ I tend to recoil as I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of prog metal as a genre, however, I most certainly have an open mind musically, and with all the good things I’d heard about Lord Dying, prog metal or not, I was excited to dive in.
Opener The Universe Is Weeping takes its time getting going before unfolding into a charging, prog-rocker complete with unexpected death metal-esque growled vocals that are complimented by Maucere-Pike’s harmonized clean vocals. It’s a good start and serves as a decent mission statement for the record. I Am Nothing I Am Everything features some definite death metal vibes, apocalyptic guitar squeals as well as some killer, charging-into-battle pummeling courtesy of Swartz’s drums.
We then get the first taste of Lord Dying’s prog tendencies with a left-field turn into Unto Becoming, which features soaring clean vocals in the chorus interspersed with occasional, guttural vocals, that are coupled with a weird, quasi-modern-Mastodon vibe. Final Push Into The Sun is a ripping, driving riffer, wherein they drift into, to my ears anyway, Lamb Of God territory, certainly with the opening attack and vocal delivery, but alas, Lord Dying pull another left-turn and rip midway through into noodley, proggy weirdness, which is frankly pretty jarring as I had to check the track listing a few times to make sure what I was still listening to the same track.
Dancing On The Emptiness doesn’t even pretend to come off heavy as from the jump it’s an odd spacey, prog-rocker, that features plenty of slightly funky down stroke guitar interplay, deftly anchored by the bands rock-solid rhythm section. Facing The Incomprehensible doesn’t veer off into prog territory as they stay in their death metal-esque pummel with only hints of what we experienced on the previous tracks while featuring outstanding drumming and some truly eyebrow-raising lead work.
a testament to the band members’ individual skills that they can cohesively craft a record of this magnitude with all its twists and turns…
A Brief Return To Physical Form is a two-minute instrumental, mostly acoustic, aural palette-cleanser, while A Bond Broken By Death jumps into a spacey, proggy domain with both feet. I’m not sure I even have a sonic equivalent, but needless to say, this was beyond epic. The band then tease us as they stay in that sonic dimension with Break In The Clouds (In The Darkness Of Our Minds), a slow burn that descends into a crushing, metal attack, tempered somewhat by the melodic vocals floating over the top.
Soul Metamorphosis is all over the place, careening between the progressive end of the band to the death metal side for its five-minute-plus duration. The penultimate Swimming In The Absence is a mellower, melancholic affair, with the vocals harmonizing between the now-familiar clean prog delivery, and the guttural growling we’ve heard throughout, while closer The Endless Road Home is as epic as one can imagine, all while conjuring up a sadness that carries the record to its close.
Honestly, after my initial few spins, I was ready to drag this album and band hard. To the uninitiated, which I most certainly am, the bouncing back and forth between clean to guttural and death metal to prog is dizzying to say the least, especially the first few spins, however, after repeated listens I came around, and at the very least appreciated the diversity, musicianship and song craft that Lord Dying display throughout Clandestine Transcendence.
The band clearly have an ear towards the aforementioned modern Mastodon sound, or at least that’s the sonic comparison that most fit this reviewer. It is truly a testament to the band members’ individual skills that they can cohesively craft a record of this magnitude with all its twists and turns, and although I don’t know how much I’ll revisit Lord Dying in future, I am glad I got to finally experience them and this album.
Scribed by: Martin Williams