Samples in music have been a controversial point throughout history. Their use ranges from the occasional embellishment to set the mood, to incorporating it into the lifeblood of the music, which was part of the origins of hip-hop. Detractors claim it lacks creativity by definition, because it means using someone else’s work. Defenders argue that the application of existing work in a different context is what makes it creative. No matter what your position, the fact is that plenty of metal bands have made use of them, from political voices in Megadeth to horror movie samples in Mortician. Pyreship follows their example by using several speeches to embellish their post-sludge-doom, even constructing an entire track around one. But will their application be ammo in the guns of the defenders or the detractors?
The opening track, “Gravity,” is the only one free of samples, and it’s a promising enough start. Pyreship molds the warm texture of a slower and heavier Baroness over the dreamy cyclical riffing of Isis. It’s a tough combo to pull off, but Pyreship mostly succeeds in creating a heavy yet trance-inducing sound. The vocals alternate between layered cleans and a throaty style of belting, amplifying both the weight and the somnolence. The guitars don’t focus on hooks, instead layering repeating riffs on hard-hitting drums. The band feels as comfortable in their style as a cat on a keyboard, and nowhere does The Liars Bend Low feel like a debut. Without much in the way of hooks to hold onto, though, the recurring motifs make the music more lapping beach than roaring storm, despite the evident heaviness.
“Machine Men” is where the sampling starts, as the entire track has been constructed around the speech that caps off Charlie Chaplin’s movie “The Great Dictator,” deriving the title from the verbal lashing Chaplin’s character gives the military command: Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men — machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! As great as the speech is, the music surrounding it does nothing to enhance it, and little of its own personality remains. When the sample becomes more central than the music, it’s a point to the detractors.
Luckily, the other songs fare better. Samples from John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and, for some reason, Twin Peaks, are used to set the stage for the remaining tracks or cap them off, and it works better than constructing the entire track around them. “When Leaves Turn to Blood” uses JFK as the central peg in a song that evokes a creeping dread with a whining guitar riff and a rumbling low end. The production does tracks like this justice by piling the bass and drums on without overshadowing the vocals or guitars. The sound is warm and thick, and though it fills up the sonic space to the brim, it’s not overly crowded or un-dynamic.
There’s very little wrong with The Liars Bend Low, but I find it nonetheless difficult to get excited about, and I want to like it a lot more than I do. The tracks evoke an air of complacency, it feels like a certain drive is missing that pushes great doom forward. The skill of the musicians and the sound are swiftly established, but more ambition and energy would have made a big difference. This is not a pacing issue because I’ve found that drive in slower bands like Warning or Pallbearer. You may find what I could not, however, and though the sampling is occasionally overbearing and the riffs could use better hooks, the execution is solid enough to warrant a cautious recommendation for those with post-sludge-doom close at heart.