What do you get when you mix “traditional blues progressions” and “Black Flag-esque dissonance”? Apparently you get some rather standard hard rock. The latest entry in the contest to try and bring something “unique and original” to rock and roll, Lord Sterling is here to wave the banner of the blues as the description for their particular brand of rock. Unfortunately, whatever heart and soul may have existed in the blues has been buried or transformed by Lord Sterling’s simplified metal aesthetics.
There’s less blues in Weapon of Truth than you’ll find in the White Stripes and their MTV-co-opted, GAP-brand garage rock, although there’s plenty of nods to Black Flag. In fact, what’s most amusing about Lord Sterling’s bid for singularity is that it winds up sounding like so much aggro punk. The addition of spaced-out moog washes and looped synth sounds can’t take away from the fact that Lord Sterling really hasn’t broken that many molds. In and of itself this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but the band presents itself as unclassifiable. In reality, Lord Sterling is a slow-burning heavy punk, art-metal band pounding beneath an atonal, sluggish Henry Rollins clone of a singer. Sure, it’s more menacing than anything that Staind, Puddle of Mudd, or Linkin Park could ever produce, but it’s not the resurrection of blues-rock by a long shot.
I’ll jump ahead to the end of Weapon of Truth to offer the counterpoint for why the rest of the album falls short of its stated goals. The disc closes with a truly rousing, incredibly tight and energetic cover of MC5’s “Black to Comm”. Blistering guitars, pounding bass lines, samples and pump-your-fist vocals all make the chaotic fury of the track worth every listening second. Referencing one of the earliest and best bands of the garage rock, proto-punk era makes a bold statement in its tie to the past, and performing the cover so well gives Lord Sterling some instant cred. Unfortunately, it also makes you wonder: if they could perform such a song so well, why couldn’t they write one of their own? Lord Sterling comes close to reaching these heights on “Too High for a Fool” and “No More Identity”, when they cut loose and speed up their delivery to match the angry lyrical assault, but they never seem to capture that sense of melody on their own.
The worst offenders are in the self-described “Space Trilogy” — the back-to-back tracks “Blues on Mars”, “Dead in Orbit”, and “Earthling”. Musically, these tracks come the closest to mixing blues and metal to achieve a tense, alienated atmosphere to match the lost soul lyrics. But vocalist and lyricist Robert Ryan nearly sucks the life out of these songs in his delivery. It is, perhaps, in his singing that Ryan most directly resembles Rollins, relying on a gruff, harsh growl instead of any real attempts at melody. That’s fine, really, as it suits the abrasive, intense lyrics, which very much echo Rollins’ confrontational approach. But Ryan’s delivery can best be described as plodding and unwieldy. “Weapon of Truth”, “Listener”, and the aforementioned “Space Trilogy” songs all get bogged down in the over-enunciated, painfully slow manner in which the lyrics are presented. At times their atonality and ponderousness are even at odds with the music beneath them, and some of these tracks could have been far more successful as instrumentals. Nowhere on Weapon of Truth is this more apparent than on “Songs of Sinking Ships”, which sounds for all the world like a space-rock Black Flag covering a Led Zepplin tune.
The real problem with Weapon of Truth is not Lord Sterling’s lack of talent and ability. As a rock band, all of the musicians are talented and display some moments of brilliance. The interest in experimentation does add a certain twist that is also welcome, a spot of which comes in the brief instrumental outro featuring an electric sitar and dallying a bit in the introduction to the Cult’s “Fire Woman”. But it really seems like Lord Sterling is trying too hard with this album. If they could find a way to merge the melodic chops they display in the cover of “Black to Comm” with the political fury of “Too High for a Fool” or “No More Identity”, then you’d have a band worthy of heaps of praise. But the plodding sense with which Lord Sterling attempts to inject some drama in their other tracks is not only distracting, it’s boring. Somewhere in the middle of “Dead in Orbit” it all becomes too much. It’s a shame, then, that the best tracks lay at the end of the disc. Weapon of Truth hints at future greatness, maybe, but Lord Sterling’s not there yet.