Well, after months of pimping this record (a lot) for everyone and bugging promotional people for copies of it and so forth, I finally have The 11th Hour‘s follow up to the masterful Burden of Grief which hit home with this Angry Metal Guy in 2009. As a guy who has never really been a huge doom fan, I can say that Burden of Grief was an eye opener on several levels. First, it’s safe to say that the songwriting was fantastic. Slow, dirgey and depressing, but never wandering into the areas of mind numbing dullness that other doom bands reach (it must be my Angry Metal Attention Deficit Disorder). But also, the record contained deeply personal lyrics, haunting clean vocals and a concept that made the whole record sit together in a way that few other albums do. Indeed, Burden of Grief is easily one of the best albums I own and so, I guess, that and all the anticipation made the danger that I would be disappointed high. But this isn’t just about psychology, either. There is also a thing called “sophomore slump” for a reason. Burden of Grief probably had a lot longer to percolate than Lacrima Mortis did and was coming from a different place both psychologically and in the time line of Ed Warby’s career. With partner in crime Rogga Johansson unable to record vocals, it’s safe to say that this record could have really lost a step.
And I’m going to be totally honest here, at first I was disappointed. The record didn’t hit me immediately with the same kind of weight that Burden of Grief did. At first I didn’t like the keys on the first two tracks (“Bury Me” and “We All Die Alone”) because they felt too distant and wet and maybe even a tad fake and didn’t really carry any emotional weight. The production, which was still masterful, didn’t feel quite as thick as I’d've liked it. And, shit, I really missed the concept aspects of the album. I gave it a listen one time through and walked away disappointed. Despite some strengths that stood out, I was still doubting whether or not this record was really that great.
But a funny thing happened, then, with a bit of time. I kept coming back to listen to the record and with every spin, Lacrima Mortis began to grow into its own beast. With Warby’s trademark tenor vocals and amazing delivery and with Pim Blankenstine (Officium Triste) delivering growls that live up to his predecessor Rogga’s mighty growls easily, the tracks and melodies started worming their way slowly under my skin. Slow is the keyword here, as nothing on this album happens very quickly. While never getting down to Ahab kind of speeds, The 11th Hour still probably rocks at 80 bpm and with an average of about 7 minutes and 30 seconds on every track, things move pretty slowly.
But in the case of deathy doom of this caliber, slow and sometimes a tad repetitive just means heavy as a ton of bricks. Like in “We All Die Alone” where Pim roars his lines over creepy keyboards and straight 8th notes, one would have to be made of stone to not appreciate the pure destructive power of that riff. Or the death metal part in “The Death of Life” (which sounds like a gut-wrenching story of a highly dependent person losing their attachment), is just bone crushing. But the track “Tears of the Bereaved” takes the cake, with the keyboard drenched riffs at around 1:10, it is just perfectly executed and makes me throw horns.
But what makes this record so good is that the combination of the heavy death stuff is offset by addictive, smart and melancholic melody that permeates every nook and cranny of every one of these morose dirges. Be it on the guitars, such as in “Tears of the Bereaved” or on the lights out “Rain on Me” after the keyboard intro, classic strains of melodic doom come out and hit the listener right where they live. And on the melodic front, Warby hasn’t been sitting around on his laurels, either. He actually has dramatically improved his melodic structures and the melodies on this album are ridiculously catchy. “Bury Me” will have you humming it for weeks after hearing it a single time, and his emotional approach on “Nothing But Pain” is fulfilled when the record comes to a halt with a death rattle.
Initially disappointed, Lacrima Mortis won me over on the strength and quality of the writing. It is a phenomenal record, despite the deck loaded against it. I have minor complaints here and there, such as that I think the keyboard sound could definitely be improved and the crying lady in “Tears of the Bereaved” really makes me want to skip that track once it starts (despite the song itself being supremely awesome, talk about a lose-lose). While I don’t think it’s as good of a cohesive record as Burden of Guilt (as in, I would never feel comfortable listening to a single song off the former without listening to the whole album), that’s about the one area that lacks. This is an excellent album and that you haven’t purchased it yet had better be because you’re unemployed or it’s not out yet.