Seeing Lords was one of my more pleasant live music surprises of the last year. I went to see Iowa hardcore band Modern Life is War play an acoustically-challenged classroom at DePaul University and Lords was second-billed on the show, following three generic Chicago area hardcore bands. The crowd did not share my low opinion of the first three bands, tearing it up in the pit hard-style for each predictable breakdown and shout-along chorus. There was a bit of a break before Lords took the stage because they had to load in and set up their impressive arsenal of vintage amps. Most of the crowd went into the hallway to avoid the heat of the crowded windowless classroom. Once the three-piece began their set of their complex but grooving time-shifty amalgamation of hardcore, classic rock, and the Keelhaul/Craw school of tech-metal, they drew a lot of blank stares from a lot of confused hardcore kids. A few of them even walked out as I stood there with my jaw figuratively on the floor and my head literally banging. These guys rocked hard and loud.
I picked up their Jade Tree debut and second overall release Swords after the show. Could they contain the fury of the live show—which felt like it truly depended on the sheer volume of the music—in the studio? They could, but only partially. The record blasts through thirteen songs in less than twenty minutes and barely allows the listener to come up for air, so the urgency of the live performance is there, but the guitar and bass tone don’t quite capture the power they had in the live setting. The vocals are mainly throaty barks, but the rare gruff melodic line occasionally makes an appearance, and the vocals are more effective on the album than they were piped through the substandard PA in the DePaul classroom. “Stigmata Rites,” the first track on the album, barges out of the gate like a band that has been rocking for years but finally got the time-change thing under control. They mess around with timing, but not as much as some of their peers. What really sets Lords apart from bands like more tech-oriented bands like PsyOpus or Ion Dissonance is that Lords never lose sight of the groove or write tech parts just to complicate a song. This album sounds like the kind of record a younger and more pissed-off Unsane would make if they tried to play oddly arranged Ted Nugent songs at double the tempo.
The artwork and layout for the release look great and match the feel of the music—chaotic and dirty but with a sense of humor. The art merges imagery of playing card faces with religious icons (and a few knight-ninjas with wings thrown in to keep things interesting.) I have to mention, though, that the album title is a bit misleading. These songs do not cut like swords; I think a blunt object or perhaps some sort of spiked mace or large hammer is a much more apt comparison. If any kind of music sounded like a sword attack, it’d be the sharp metal riffs of bands like Behemoth or maybe Cryptopsy. While I don’t feel sliced by Lords, I can definitely imagine getting pummeled to the beat of the less-frenetic parts of “Talking Whip” or “Slow and Stupid” from Swords.
That’s probably the highest praise I can give Swords. While it doesn’t quite live up to the extremely high standard set by their live show, it really succeeds in feeling like a remorseless auditory beatdown, which is probably what Lords was setting out to accomplish.