You can't stop progress, as Neil Fallon memorably put it. LORD DYING have been heading in an intriguing direction for some time: members of the sludge and doom fraternity with a broader and more daring vision than most, their second album "Poisoned Altars" was one of 2015's most bewitching riff riots. But even taking that strident forward leap into consideration, "Mysterium Tremendum" is likely to come as a major surprise to even the band's most devoted fans. Not that the Oregon crew have abandoned their core identity—this is still a slow, heavy and resolutely organic barrage of sound, full of SABBATH-ian heft and harangued by dark emotional shadows. But where their previous efforts have been easily identifiable as high-grade subgenre fodder, these songs point to a creative blossoming and a wholesale embracing of progressive ideals. The results are near-uniformly stunning.
In truth, LORD DYING are not the first doom band to channel their love of PINK FLOYD and they certainly won't be the last, but where many prefer to imitate and emulate, it's the prog legends' sonic warmth and sense of infinite space that have been harnessed here. Striking a sublime balance between imperious, gleaming hugeness and the sound of a real band putting real amps under strain, "Mysterium Tremendum" is an unashamed prog rock album and, if you'll forgive the cliché, a bona fide musical journey.
Songs like "Nearing the End of the Curling Worm" and "Severed Forever" are sprawling, schizophrenic things, with nods to everything from post-punk morbidity and ALICE IN CHAINS' grinding grandeur to the beatific transcendentalism of OM and the buffalo crunch of early MASTODON conspiring to conjure something brilliantly distinctive. Vocalist Erik Olson is key to the whole enterprise: as plaintive plaintiff, spectral narrator or growling marauder, his performance is a laudable mixture of the primal and the poetic. On "Severed Forever" in particular, his harmonized rasp is a compelling focal point; a burst of defiant humanity amid a downward spiral of funereal dissonance. Somehow, the song manages to be exhibit shades of early '90s doom/death and late '60s dark psych, before spinning off into a bombastic classic metal coda.
Musical revelations aside, "Mysterium Tremendum" is an album with great lyrical depths and a palpable desire to forge an emotional connection. At the record's thematic core lies thoughts of mortality and cosmic insignificance—"Lacerated Psyche" was apparently inspired by the death of guitarist Chris Evans's sister—but even though the cold chill of loss is omnipresent, there is something gently uplifting about the likes of "The End of Experience" and "Freed from the Pressures of Time", not least because LORD DYING are clearly, audibly thrilled to have raised their game to such a colossal extent. Even the folksy eulogy of "Even the Darkness Went Away", with its bitter cry of "This is all we are and all we'll ever be...", seems to embody a strengthening of resolve and a joyful realization that heavy music, in all its limitless complexity and strangeness, really can make you feel better about all kinds of hideous shit. Plus, of course, "Mysterium Tremendum" is one badass trip with loads of great riffs. Tremendous.