Sunday, August 23, 2015

Album Review: Dead Lord - Heads Held High

A band's image is a crucial part of their appeal. It shouldn't be, and I try hard not to ever think about what a band looks like (since music can't be seen), but it's an inevitable factor in how we perceive the artists we listen to. We want our music to be cool, and we want the people who make it to similarly be cool. When their look doesn't fit our perceptions of what the music should appear like, there is a degree to which the music will suffer, in our eyes.

So when a band like Dead Lord comes around, I'm not sure what to think. The cover of "Heads Held High" is straight out of the stoner rock school, with a big fuzzy skull and throwback horror movie lettering. But then when you see the band on stage, they look like a band that would be in a porn parody of what rock and roll is all about. Then throw in the fact that what they are is neither of those things, but instead a throwback rock band playing an updated form of classic rock, and none of it makes the least bit of sense.

As to the music itself, Dead Lord comes across like a modern day reincarnation of Thin Lizzy, but with a lot more grit than Black Star Riders have been able to inject into their music. There's a purveying sense of dirt and grime that washes over these songs, which gives them more personality than a lot of the bands playing this kind of music. The mix of dingy tones and hooky songs is a combination that works well for the band.

"Farewell" is about as simple an opening number as you can get, with a hook that almost entirely centers around the title, but the Phil Lynott meets Paul Stanley vocals are endearing in their rough edges, the chorus is solidly catchy, and the guitar playing has just enough to it for the song to bounce along. Not every song is as short and sweet. "Ruins" extends out over nearly six minutes, packing multiple solo breaks in between a proto-thrash riff and another solid chorus. The modern music fan in me is supposed to be bothered by the not quite perfect vocals, and the lead guitar that at times bends out of key, but those moments are what actually make me like the song even more. It's unflinching in its honesty.

"No Regrets" is the kind of half-ballad that I love, with plenty of room for melody, and the twin-guitar harmonies that recall Thin Lizzy. The no-frills approach works on this kind of song, and Dead Lord takes full advantage. Not every song works as well, but even the songs that don't hit as hard, like "Mindless" are still enjoyable. They just lack the killer instinct that is powering the better tracks on display here.

The more energetic tracks, like "Strained Fools" and "When History Repeats Itself" are where the band seems most comfortable. Those tracks utilize their strengths, and are hard not to like. But when they get to a more extended number like "The Bold Move", they seem to be a bit outside their wheelhouse. That track in particular drags on for too long before it gets going, and even then, it's lacking the snap and crackle of the shorter tracks.

But leaving those criticisms aside, "Heads Held High" is a solid album that has a lot of throwback personality, and is a completely enjoyable way of spending some time. No, it's not one of the best albums of vintage rock I've heard, but there's nothing wrong with being a good band making good records. That's what we have here.

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