I confess to not having more than a passing acquaintance with Lord Vicar as a project until fairly recently. Oh sure, I’d known him as one of the key figures in Reverend Bizarre, but after that group had broken up, I only really checked out the debut and then just kinda forgot about it for the longest time. That is, ‘til someone mentioned they were still around as a project and that they’d put out a new album at the end of April. And thus, here we are today…
If I had to be pressed into describing The Black Powder to someone, Id describe it as being a somewhat proggier descendant of Reverend Bizarre. Which is kind of an inelegant way to put it, but the Rev themselves were proggy where it counted most (song structure and their knack for tension/release dynamics), and Lord Vicar continues the tradition. The first song bears this out, perhaps more overtly than anything other track on the record. “Sulphur, “Charcoal and Saltpetre” is a 17-minute song that essentially uses its opening & closing acoustic theme as the springboard for the rest of the song. What I mean is that while most metal bands have a habit of using that as window dressing, Lord Vicar’s use of it as bookends for the song basically means that every riff and melodic figure basically springs directly from it. Untethered by verse/chorus song structure here, the band gainfully allows the riffs to drive & dictate the main action of the song, either organically shifting into the next one or throwing in a sudden break for emphasis – the middle 8 of the song, where it speeds up and gets all turbulent, is brilliantly handled as a contrast to the rest of the track – conveying a sense of agony, sorrow, and ultimately at the song’s conclusion, regret. It’s a stunningly excellent, fully realized piece with better riffs than most other modern doom bands you’d care to mention, and boasting a consistently brilliant sense of arrangement & structure without letting up on the physicality of it all.
But that’s not all there is to The Black Powder. There’s actually a pretty surprising variety of tempos throughout this album – as opposed to Reverend’s preoccupation with going Low And Slow forever, there’s actually a fair bit of upbeat material here to go along with the super slow riffage. One of the best cuts on the album in my estimation is “The Temple in Bedrock”, which is essentially built around a riff that channels the great “Symptom of the Universe” more than anything else and everything builds off it, with a middle part that shuffles into crushingly glacial doom (see also tracks like “Impact”, which is just a mid-paced brusier of a tune if there’s one to point to here). Meanwhile, you do have stuff like “Descent”, which pleasing recalls RevBiz – “Council of Ten”, in this instance – but it does it in a way that feels like a natural continuation of what that song laid down, instead of as a warmed-over rehash of what had come before.
The main thing in taking away from this album is that it isn’t anything particularly novel, admittedly. It’s just a stunningly excellent doom metal record in all of the things that matters – the riffs are excellent & crushingly powerful; the rhythm section grooves & swings with the best of them, and the vocals, while somewhat understated, are also passionate, sincere & appropriate for the music at hand. Most important, it is again the sense of structure & arrangement with these songs that remains its most consistently impressive virtue – it’s painstakingly detailed, carefully composed material; songs that clearly had a lot of thought & care into how they moved from one riff to the next, the vocal lines meshing with the guitars, sundry things like that. It showcases a band that understands that a metal song can be more than just a collection of riffs – nothing wrong with that, of course, but I’m just saying for effect here – and can ultimately build into something that takes you elsewhere. I harp on that a lot because it’s a rare thing for a metal band to pull it off, and thankfully, this group pull that off masterfully. I daresay this is one of the best of 2019, and will go down as a future classic in its own right. Fantastic stuff.
Album rating: 90/100
Favorite track: “Sulphur, Charcoal and Saltpetre”