Devastating Planetary Shift is a tough album to write about. It’s not that these guys are some hyped-up underground darlings who filled me with immense expectations that were later squashed – on the contrary, there’s precious little information to be found about Twin Lords anywhere, and Shift is the New York duo’s debut album after a 2012 demo. Furthermore, the music itself offers no easy points of comparison. I’ve seen them tagged as everything from “progressive” to “sludge” to “powerviolence,” and having listened to the album myself numerous times, I’m still not sure what I’d classify Twin Lords as. But genre tags aside – is it any good?
Initially, I didn’t think so. Pre-release track “The Guilt of One Man” put me off with what I perceived as an overly stripped-down sound and amateur riff craft. After doing some research spurred by a tip from Kronos, it made sense: turns out the ‘band’ is comprised solely of bassist/vocalist Dan Alex Rivera and drummer Andrew Hernandez (Tombs). No guitars, no keyboards – just loopy bass riffs and shouted powerviolence-esque vocals, with a dynamic drum performance smashing and flexing beneath it all.
As happens, once the initial nose-wrinkling passed, I realized Twin Lords actually have something pretty special going on here. Opener “Rise” does a good job representing the first three tracks, unfolding from a bass lick that recalls Individual Thought Patterns-era Death, before lapsing into pinch harmonic-esque squeals and concluding with one of the most plaintive and evocative melodies I’ve heard this year. Follow-ups like aforementioned “Guilt” and “Til Times End” are equally impressive, sounding like something Cynic might have written if they stuck with metal and Paul Masvidal had traded in his six-string and vocoder for a bass guitar and a desperation-ridden shout.
Later tracks both add variety and further develop the otherworldly feel conjured by the opening trio. But whereas the openers could be the skeletal outline of a prog-death record, the first minutes of “Stoned Cutter” sound like the foundation for a new Devourment song, while sultry closer “Why Am I” features droning bass notes and a second half that sounds like an attempt to aurally convey the experience of walking along an extraterrestrial impact crater. Of all things, I’m reminded of the mood conveyed by Spiral Architect‘s A Sceptic’s Universe, probably due at least in part to the similarities between the album covers. While lacking the instrumental prowess of Universe, Shift has that same sense of metaphysical mystery, aided by introspective, philosophical-tinged lyrics like “Life’s nothing like the way I knew it/Mid-life feels more like being half-dead” – lines which Rivera delivers with harrowing conviction.
Sadly, not all of Shift‘s seven tracks can match this high standard. Fourth track “Arithmaphobia” is an 86-second throwaway instrumental, a cobbled-together piece of noodly ideas that offers a decent enough segue into the record’s second half, but no value on its own. Likewise, “The Fear” forgoes the measured pace of most of the record for a direct two-minute battering of bass squeals and rapid staccato vocal patterns that, again, fails to equal the quality of neighboring tracks. Still, five for seven ain’t bad – and the production more than makes up for these missteps. With a heavy emphasis on the bass, the sound features genuine depth, with the strained shouts sounding distant yet intelligible, and Hernandez’s ever-changing drum performance a bit subdued and understated. Still, the mix perfectly fits the feel Twin Lords are going for – I couldn’t imagine this album with a different production.
In the end, I’m glad I gave Shift a chance. As any avid metal listener knows, there’s a lot of bands out there that seem to try to defy or mash together genre conventions strictly for the novelty factor. Twin Lords is different – they feel genuine in their execution and offer songs with great flow, distinct identities, and tight instrumental interplay. Though I have a few quibbles – the ending is fairly abrupt, and 30 minutes feels a tad short considering I don’t care for two of the seven tracks – I’m still eager to hear what comes next from this project, and heartily recommend it to those looking for something a little different than usual.