Well, 2015 is over and it was terrible. But rather than bore you with the details, I’ll sum it up like so: rah, rah, rah, I hate my job, I hate my life, I hate everyone and just want to listen to Abstracter in an air-conditioned room while some guy in a Chester the Cheetah costume gives me a back massage. Fortunately, St. Louis black-sludge trio The Lion’s Daughter have produced the perfect soundtrack to my slacker misanthropy with their sophomore LP, Existence Is Horror. (Having visited St. Louis myself once, I can see where they drew the inspiration from.) Existence is the band’s Season of Mist debut, coming after their first album, 2012’s dingy and furious Shame on Us All. Does it up the ante and deliver on its promising, ghastly artwork?
Real quick: picture a blacker Lord Mantis or Agrimonia, then take that picture, blow your nose on it, and feed it to the family of inbreds you keep chained in your basement. Daughter’s sound isn’t particularly dirty, it just revels in a type of twisted Ligottian horror that puts a heavy emphasis on the “black” in “blackened sludge.” Take first proper track “Mass Green Extinctus.” Opening with a quick, ominous riff, it progresses into a set of twisted tremolos that spiral up into a squealing melody—proving that even doom-and-gloom mongers enjoy a catchy lick now and then. Later tracks like album highlight “Dog Shaped Man” even feature riffs that recall second-wave black metal, while “Four Flies” stands out for its Neurosis-like post metal strumming and gripping climax, made even better by vocalist and axeman Rick Giordano’s clean, echoing bellows. While Giordano typically favors a commanding, hoarse roar throughout Existence’s 39 minute runtime, it’s excursions like these that make the album feel truly inspired.
In fact, the best thing about the record is how on-point every performance is. Not only are Giordano’s vocals great, but the guy is a Grade-A riffmeister as well. The devilishly simple main riff to “Midnight Glass” will have you grinning ear-to-ear as you wait for the drums to kick in, while closer “The Horror of Existence” moves from a looming thundercloud of an opening to a riff that draws immense power from sheer simplicity—akin to the immortal final lick of Bolt Thrower’s “When Cannons Fade.” Aside from the potency, the creepy, twisted licks of “Nothing Lies Ahead,” delay-pedal effects of “They’re Already Inside,” and convulsing chords of “Dog Shaped Man” conjure an atmosphere that’s both harrowing and downright grotesque.
Drummer Erik Ramsier supports things with mid-tempo, snappy beats, occasionally accelerating into not-quite-blasting over the blacker portions. As we’re talking about sludge, he does occasionally play some down-tempo moments – but sadly, these slower portions are often the least interesting. In fact, to quibble, besides instrumental “The Fiction in the Dark” and ambient opener “Phoebetor,” the remaining eight tracks—while all of good to great quality—do feel a bit similar in terms of tempo and execution. I kept waiting for one of these songs to lapse into a slow crusher of riff that would bring down the Gateway Arch with its might. Five listens later, I’m still waiting.
Songwriting woes aside, the production offers suitable punchiness and clarity, with just a hint of muddiness to match the atmosphere. While the guitar tone is a tad mechanical and a grittier overall sound would have helped, moments like the gooey bass notes in the final third of “Nothing Lies Ahead” or the diseased-heart thrumming in opener “Phoebetor” just sound too damn good to complain.
Is Existence perfect? Maybe not, but it’s a damn good start for 2016. Having never heard of The Lion’s Daughter before, the group really impressed me. For a genre that thrives on dirty, nihilistic chords, they’ve crafted an album that’s packed with great riffs and standout moments—not to mention visceral, wretched, and unsettling. Musically, it’s the perfect soundtrack to ponder the terrifying implications of track titles like “They’re Already Inside” (Parasites? Rats? In-laws?) and provides a convincing case for what Giordano roars repeatedly in the final minute of the closer: existence is horror. Could be, but at least that realization produces some compelling music.