Druid Lord – Relics of the Dead Review

Some 12 years after coalescing around ex members of Acheron, Orlando, Florida’s Druid Lord is back with just their third full-length. A hefty eight years passed between debut, Hymns for the Wicked, and its 2018 follow-up, Grotesque Offerings, on which the death-doom quartet “came up short,” according to our own Grymm. A 2.0/5.0, while not exactly positive, is not disastrous either and can, in my view, mean two things: first, that the band is competent technically but lacks the creative flair to write something really compelling; or, secondly, there is promise in the band’s vision and they’ve under-delivered despite potential. Admittedly, there are other things a 2.0 can mean but, for present purposes, that will suffice because Grymm‘s review of Druid Lord‘s last effort, suggested the band fell into the former category, while I’m hoping now that there was some potential, which will be realized on Relics of the Dead.

Compared to Grotesque Offerings, this is certainly a step up for Druid Lord but it is also fair to say that the basic blueprint and delivery remain broadly unchanged on Relics of the Dead. Burly, chugging riffs, underwritten with a healthy serving of bass groove, form the staples of this grisly menu. Tony Blakk continues to growl in menacing but largely understandable fashion about all manner of gore-splattered horrors. There are also a couple of ill-advised—as they so often are—spoken word sections, including on the aimless acoustic interlude “Nightside Conjuring” and toward the end of the otherwise strong “Thirteen Days of Death.” As ever, I assume the intention of these parts is to imbue the record with some sense of horror-filled atmosphere but in fact, they are, at best, forgettable and, at worst, comedic. Behind it all, drummer Elden Santos pounds away enthusiastically but with little finesse or variation.

There are definite bright spots on Relics of the Dead. Guitarists Pete Slate and new member Chris Wicklein build in enough melody and solos to give a slightly more nuanced edge to Druid Lord‘s otherwise run-of-the-mill death-doom sound than was present on previous outings. It remains, however, largely limited to mid-paced meaty guitar work, backed by little in the way of flair, and a poor relation to the likes of Hooded Menace and Acid Witch. There are moments, however, that suggest my hopes for Druid Lord were not totally in vain, including “Immolated to Ashes,” which starts out as one of the slowest, doomiest things on the record, only to launch into a previously unexplored, almost blackened gear about halfway through its run, shaking Druid Lord out of their lethargy to good effect. Meanwhile, “Monarch Macabre” channels a creeping menace that touches on the funereal and showcases Relics of the Dead at its strongest.

One of Grymm‘s main criticisms of Druid Lord‘s last outing was that the songs were too long, mostly hovering in the 7-8 minute range, and largely interchangeable. With the exception of interlude “Nightside Conjuring” and the pointless, ill-fitting ambient synth outro “Ethereal Decay,” everything on Relics to the Dead remains north of six minutes but there is a little more variation between tracks, making them (marginally) more memorable. Transitions into the few death metal sections, like on the title track in particular, remain slightly clunky, however. What really sank Grotesque Offerings though was the fact it sported one of the most brickwalled production jobs I’ve ever heard. Relics of the Dead, without setting the world alight, sounds significantly better, with the guitars sounding full, slightly fuzzed—as they should be—and with a decent tone to them, while Blakk’s vocals also have a gravelly edge that works well. The bass still goes wandering on occasion, however, and Santos’ drums are often too far back in the mix and the bass drums in particular sound muffled and indistinct.

Druid Lord have definitely upped their game from Grotesque Offerings, on which Grymm was possibly a little generous, but Relics of the Dead remains a mixed outing. Despite the marked improvement in production and greater variation on show, with standout tracks “Monarch Macabre” and “Thirteen Days of Death” (spoken interlude aside) genuinely striking a chord with me., as a whole Relics of the Dead lacks true memorability and there are some clunky songwriting choices that need further finessing. I may hang onto the reviewing mantle for Druid Lord to see where they go next. In five years time.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hells Headbangers
Websites: druid-lord.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/druiddeathcult
Releases Worldwide: January 21st, 2022

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