Opium Lord's Vore is a soul-blackened missive tailor-made to spark crowds as well as to reward contemplative listening.
11 October 2019Other
Aaron Pickford's Sludgelord Records and its associated magazine, has become an energetic champion of the genre from which it takes its name. One band to find a home on the label is Birmingham's Opium Lord, whose sophomore album sees them staking a bold claim as one to watch. Delays, let-downs, and unfulfilled promises made for a frustrating few years in which the band's discography consisted of only a two track EP in 2013, an album and split-single in 2015-16, lots of hanging around – now finally at an end.
The wait was worth it for fans of music made for the mosh-pit. Vore combines hardcore's smack-in-the-face edge, the neck-snap intensity of thrash, and doom's feeling of being dragged through gravel by a grim-faced troupe.
The album is persistently menacing at all times and there's an air of pent-up emotion hurled at the speaker. Riff follows riff, the bass smashes hard n' heavy, drums-drums-drums crashing and punching, vocals a throaty roar. Having ticked down the genre checklist, however, what makes Opium Lord stand out is their assured capabilities as skilled instrumentalists. Throughout the album, violence is marshalled with precision.
On 'Surture', there's an intriguing intro structure with the guitar ticking back-forth across a brief phrase, then a near halt before a down-tuned bass riff plods fat steps across the sound field. It's like listening to Soundgarden if they hadn't cared about being popular. The song is full of funny moments (in inverted commas) whether that means a 30-second break filled with scrunched strings and feedback, an out-of-nowhere switch in the drum rhythm around 4.25, some final squeals lashing out before fade to black. Vore is laced with these added flourishes that break away from the square template and give them individuality and sonic surprise.
The deliberation that has gone into song structure and approach is visible and distinguishes the album from what is a deep well of head-pounding music. 'Centurion' features a clever false start: the drums explode at centre-stage mixed so heavy they almost distort, the guitar enters like an angle-grinder slicing a thick bollard of timber. You ready yourself for the drop into Richter Scale-registering explosions, gulp down air ready for your ears to be blasted…Instead there's just enough time to take that breath then the cycle repeats – the full eruption deferred a little longer.
Of course it comes, a classic heavy verse-chorus-verse worthy of a band emanating from the same neck of the woods as Black Sabbath. The final minute is then a masterclass in how slow grooving can lend weight and impact where sheer speed would numb. It's that dynamic shift that prevents Opium Lord ever slipping into the background.
It's notable the number of ways the band find to open a song: one moment it's down to the drums, the next it's the guitar, the bass gets a turn, or they're altogether, or in any combination thereof. The flipside is that it's fair to say that it's the intros and outros of songs where the band's more ingenious thinking is given full rein, the core of each song generally sounds as if Melvins had really prioritised rocking out – and that's no bad thing.
The moments of relief are few and far between. 'Sherwood Is Conector' is all fury, Nathan Coyle's voice snapping phrases astride a slow pounding bison of a rhythm, which suddenly retreats. The song pauses, wild-eyed and pacing, a catch of breath lasting an unsettling length of time, you find yourself anticipating the inevitable then it comes, a pummelling and relentless pugilism rocking you back, no let up. The song's finishes, literally stomping away, drums impacting like George Foreman on a heavy medicine bag, blow following blow.
As a vocalist, Coyle has mastered a move from mid-range roaring, all roughly hewn edges and heavy rasping, into higher-pitched snarling. His voice is a serviceable instrument meting out punishment, doubling down on the band's overall mood or providing a neat counterpoint at unexpected moments.
Mike Scheidt of Yob guests on the album's clear peak, 'Columbia'. The verses sound like they're delivered from a dry throated and regretful soul staring up forlornly from the bottom of a long dead well. Everyone else stands well back out of the spotlight, cycling feedback like a finger round the top of a glass, bass rumbling at a slight distance. Fully half the song has passed before the band re-enter the album's default territory which, in some ways, feels like a song within a song, it's so distinct from what came before. A third part is built up around a rather soul-shuddering thud that carries us through to a last two minutes where everything blazes away for all-out war.
After hurtling through the final 30 seconds, we're straight into the album's finale, 'Gift'. The previous song went through so much in its near eight-minute run that 'Gift' winds up feeling like a part two, the whole band launch in within barely ten seconds and that's more or less where we stay for the song's duration, nifty drum rolls, some ear-catching breakdowns, guitar like tinnitus, moments where a single sound drills away at the listener before the full band slaps you hard.
Opium Lord have crafted a declarative statement that one would hope draws a line under past frustrations and leaves them free to face a future of deserved recognition. Vore is a relentless album without any songs that feel like filler. Often the band cycle through so many of their various modes within a single song that the end of the song in question feels irrelevant, merely another calculated and well-weighted pause in a single beginning-to-end experience.
I didn't emerge feeling uplifted. But I did check gig listings to see if I'll have an opportunity to see Opium Lord in a live setting. When I do, I expect I'll be sweating until my throat is dry and headbanging until I can't raise my head properly for days afterward.