A Killer Album from Melodic Metal Band The Lords of Black
Are Trans-Siberian Orchestra a Halloween band? How about Iron Maiden? If you answered yes to both questions, you need to crank the Lords of Black‘s album, simply titled II – streaming at Spotify – at least once this month. If either of those first two groups are your thing, you will probably find yourself blasting this many times. Although there’s plenty here that’s definitely Halloweenish, taken as a whole it comes across as a requiem, more sadness and resignation than venom amidst the bursts and blasts.
While the band’s obvious influence, from Ronnie Romero’s grand guignol vocals, to the machinegunning guitar multitracks of Tony Hernando, is classic mid-80s Maiden, there’s also plenty of bluster and cumulo-nimbus ambience from the synthesized orchestration. Javi Garcia’s ammering bass riffage over Andy C’s bludgeoning drums complete the picture. The cemetery graphics on the album cover give pretty much everything away. And the album’s opening instrumental interlude, Malevolently Beautiful, with its towering twin-guitar attack, makes a solid launching pad for the pummeling first song, Merciless.
The band launches into the fiery anthem Only One Life Away with a tricky icepick rhythm, then the guitars intertwine like martyrs burning at the stake before one spirals away toward Eddie Van Halen territory later on – Hernando isn’t necessarily subtle, but he’s mightily impactful. By contrast, Everything You’re Not opens with unexpectedly pop-oriented piano before the guitars kick in and the storm begins to rage.
New World’s Coming has Exorcist Theme-like piano tinkling evilly behind the guitar crush: call this overhype, but when the volleys of eight-notes kick in, it hits you: this could be a great Maiden track from, say, Powerslave. The band oscillates in and quickly hits a staggering gallop with Cry No More, a toweringly elegaic shout-out to “broken heroes that can’t take it anymore.” Tears I Will Be keeps the drama going full tilt with more of a straight-up, volleying drive, some serious chromatic menace and Adrian Smith-like sprints down the fretboard (and a real Spinal Tap moment on the first chorus – it’s hilarious, and probably not intentional).
The band pulls back, but just a little bit, with Insane, a midtempo minor-key burner. Live By the Lie, Die By the Truth kicks off as what would have been the most likely track to get radio airplay if this was 1985, but by midway through, the savage volleys of tremolo-picking make it the album’s heaviest cut.
Ghost of You is the album’s most epic track: baroque acoustic guitar and toxic atmospherics mingle with a grimly wary dirge, shades of Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Art of Illusion Part III: The Wasteland makes a good segue: it’s the ghost riders really soaring through the smoky skies, with some tasty phaser effects. The final cut is the defiantly heroic Shadows of War: assaultive as this band is, war is the last thing they want, as Romero’s Brian Johnson-like scream at the end makes more than clear.
Everyone in the group plays with searing chops. Throughout the album, the production has a magnificence drenched in icy digital reverb: the bass really kicks in when Garcia slams out chords as a chorus reaches combustion point, and the drums are tastefully back in the mix, vinyl record style. As melodic metal goes in 2016, it’s hard to imagine anything more fun than this.