With every .zip and .rar file that a reviewer opens comes a whiff of hope. Usually, that hope is merely that a freshly delivered promo isn’t actually a steaming pile; as any contributor to AMG Blogworks and Unicorn Photoshops Incorporated would tell you, that’s pretty much a fifty-fifty shot. With Lör, though, that hope grew into something more. Maybe it was the strange appearance of an unsigned progressive power metal band from Philadelphia of all places (or maybe it was Lör’s use of the most sacred of all metal naming conventions, the umlaut) that drew me to it, but I instantly reserved In Forgotten Sleep when it popped up in our promo queue. A totally unjustifiable anticipation grew in the back of my mind in the weeks leading up to my acquisition of the album; whether it was intuition or sheer dumb luck, my curiosity paid off in spades. Calling this unsigned debut a surprise would be a severe understatement.
Lör reminds me of another North American prog/power/folk hybrid called Viathyn in their execution. Yet unlike Viathyn, who I always found a bit too emotionally anemic to fully embrace, Lör packs emotional depth and breadth. Adventurous, grand-scale keyboard theatrics, thrashing power metal adrenaline, and Wilderun-esque melancholy are all on display, but what immediately made me fall in love with In Forgotten Sleep lies in the way these themes carefully and at times brilliantly coexist in the context of a single song. Lör effortlessly adapts their motifs to fit a variety of moods; a wistful, bittersweet melody in a song’s introduction can, with careful modifications, prove to be just as useful serving as the main hook of a triumphant climax. The band’s penchant for lengthy compositions lends this sonic evolution impressive legs, and unlike many progressive bands, Lör possesses the songwriting and thematic tact required to sustain the longer tracks’ mammoth structuring.
Lör’s epics offer much more in the way of listener engagement than smart construction, impressive though their songwriting chops certainly are. The roads to their delayed payoffs are paved with instant gratification, both melodically and instrumentally speaking; galloping riffs and drum patterns surge forward with thrashing, kinetic energy, while immense choruses offer cathartic peaks without stooping to Disney levels of cornball melodiousness. Indeed, In Forgotten Sleep is defined by its individual successes as much as its long-form victories, with passages like the unconventional acoustic shredding in “Visions of Awakening” and the infectious tempo hike that kicks “Dusk” into speed metal mode, offering two prime examples in a record overflowing with memorable moments. The latter song, which is both IFS’s lengthiest piece and the introductory track, is smartly followed up by the short-and-sweet “Dark Cloud.” A quick blast of Euro-power that echoes Sonata Arctica’s “Kingdom for a Heart” in its arpeggiated leads, it handily serves as an exhibition of Lör’s flexibility in succeeding through short-form material.
A record as unique and nuanced as In Forgotten Sleep practically demands proper production, and while it’s not perfect from an engineering standpoint, I find its sound absolutely charming. The drums pop with crisp, percussive force, the guitars carry warm tones that lend the leads a downright bluesy feel, and the bass is plenty beefy without ever feeling drowned out by the lush, colorful array of keyboard effects. I’m not in love with the level of reverb placed on the vocals as it becomes distracting during IFS’s more introspective moments, but Tyler Fedeli proves himself an admirable frontman nonetheless. Though not the most technically impressive singer, he handles Lör’s dynamic nature with aplomb, offering somber, soft-spoken musings and dramatic expulsions with an unpretentious singing style that makes him an excellent spokesperson for the band. The musicianship gets top marks all around, but Peter Hraur deserves special attention for actually making me give a shit about guitar solos in power metal. His loose, almost improvisational style is executed with a spontaneous feel without ever sacrificing technical showmanship or neglecting Lör’s folk leanings.
I worry that I’ve somehow undersold what Lör has accomplished with this debut. There’s so much I want to gush over that I haven’t even touched on yet; I haven’t brought up the trace elements of death and black metal that can crop up, or even some of my favorite cuts (chiefly “Eidolon” and “Spectrum”). But make no mistake; In Forgotten Sleep is a remarkable record in every aspect, one of the only works in my collection that can justify every second of a seventy-minute run-time, and indisputably my favorite album of the year thus far. Whether Lör can keep up this momentum has yet to be seen, but In Forgotten Sleep already feels like an underground classic in the making.