DRUID LORD – Relics of the Dead (2022)REVIEW

Cetiya piled in dust and predatorial web age into the detritus of long eradicated irrelevant religion, all follower’s treasures gone to soot and vandalized in rusting neglect as the maw of the believer hangs opened mid-shriek, frozen in sight of death’s approach. Without spiritual culture to leave behind in memoriam the witless churn of humanity can only amount to suffocating rot-heaps, voided of purpose beyond filling what sinkholes their resource-heavy plodding entails. The skin-wrapped bones of today always find their gnawing jackal, reserving all putrid rare-earth nutrient for the most desperate jaws of the predatorial survivor. Lift your perpetually scowling eyes away from the grey feast fuming in front of you and instead dream of the sweetest corpses of the golden age of death as this skin-writ book of spells by way of Orlando, Florida-borne death/doom metal quartet Druid Lord cracks its spine wide open for a particularly morbid third chapter, ‘Relics of the Dead‘. Traditionalists far from stuck in any sort of rut, these long-standing extreme metal musicians continue to impress in pursuit of personalized contemporary update to ancient niche forms.

Formed in 2010 between former members of underrated Mt. Plymouth-area late 90’s underground black/death metal mainstays Equinox (see: ‘Return to Mystery‘), the consistent force behind Druid Lord specifically includes musicians Pete Slate and Tony Blakk who’d likewise had some involvement in key works from the early 90’s Acheron spheres. Although you’ll hear some of the same 80’s extreme metal influences shared amongst all of the aforementioned projects past-and-present the death/doom metal style of Druid Lord more often draws comparison with pre-‘Effigies of EvilHooded Menace, more recent works from Runemagick, Solothus and Temple of Void. This should indicate psychedelic doom metal rhythms applied to ‘old school’ death/doom metal’s structured attack, effectively warming their sound design without losing any of their distinctly United States-borne early 90’s death metal appeal. This is arguably achieved via sensibilities I would generally connect with a well-rooted interest in Side A of ‘To Mega Therion‘, the morbid tarantella of Dream Death‘s ‘Journey into Mystery‘ and the extension of those basic ideas by way of ex-doom/thrashers like Mourning, Sempiternal Deathreign and Cianide in the late 80’s/early 90’s. The stylized movement which characterizes Druid Lord‘s work is often similarly staggered and creaking at the joints, a satisfyingly fucked up arcane feat which allows ‘Relics of the Dead‘ to lean into some additional variety of forms. Rather than plainly iterating upon ‘Grotesque Offerings‘ (2018), which would have been fine, they’ve more-or-less upped the ante wherever possible for this third release.

Though these fellowes are sticking to the guns that’d worked so well on their second album, which I’d enjoyed in review upon release, to some degree the greater formulae employed now haunts a bigger space (thanks to Resonance Sound Studios and Priory Recording Studios) with its own shade of bloodied yellow discharge lighting the way. The most cut-throat gist of the changes here lands us with more of Druid Lord‘s punchier death metal teeth showing, even slower extremes verging on funeral doom at times, and some of the swinging Finnish death/doom side of things now arriving in heavier tow. Though the ‘Never Cross the Dead‘ level of style is still the go-to comparison this time around the band have added founding Killing Addiction guitarist Chris Wicklein to their ranks and this seems to have added an extra-dimensional hand to the guitar performances with most of the lead-driven songs bracing the full listen with interest.

We definitely get the bouncier early Frost-n-Finndeath edged side of the band on Side A with the title track/opener and “Mangled as the Hideous Feed” providing extended lead melodies and huge shuffling doom metal riffing throughout. But with that in mind it was “Thirteen Days of Death” and its funeral death/doom metal infused clean guitar breaks that’d really set the strong momentum heading into the album. These explorations of tone and stylized extreme doom metal movement show some impressive willingness to expand the gory palette of the ‘Grotesque Offerings‘ in meaningful ways. It sounds somewhat odd to suggest that an emphasis on harmonized leads, elaborated melodies, and some stylistic tourism as the deployment of ‘modern perspective’ upon nostalgic forms but either way you’ve scoped it — it is a positive observation in my book and the listening experience smokes that much more for stretching Druid Lord‘s bat-winged sound to a new limit with still-worthy organic/traditional sounds in mind.

Side B is a bit more direct with its separation of classic forms, be it the direct Florida death metal shockwaves of “Immolated to Ashes” to start and then “Festering Tombs” being one of the more characteristic examples of Druid Lord‘s sound over the last decade, an approach which reads to me as something like Penance‘s ‘The Road Less Travelled‘ were it performed by Desecresy and given to a much cleaner production value. Though it is one of the most straight forward death/doom metal songs on the album I’d found it a key, most memorable peak that’d consistently struck during the full listen thanks to plenty of shredding guitar runs and the greater plod of the rhythms. In retrospect the additional focus on lead guitars does a fine job of elevating Druid Lord‘s gig in general, doing much of the work and, despite it being a natural sound and sight with consideration for their discography thus far, ‘Relics of the Dead‘ maintains its own memorable –and– brutal edge over the quartet’s past work. For my own taste this is their finest record to date and inarguably one of the better extreme metal releases of the month. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Relics of the Dead
LABEL(S):Hell’s Headbangers Records
RELEASE DATE:January 21st, 2022

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