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Album Review: L.O.R.E. – Gateways: Between the Scales of Destitution and Ascension

As I mentioned a few weeks back when we premiered “Gateway I,” 2018 has been something of a difficult year for L.O.R.E. So much so that from what I gather, there almost wasn’t a second album, and the lineup that’s performing at Red River Family Fest this weekend isn’t the same one that recorded their sophomore full-length Gateways: Between the Scales of Destitution and Ascension. However, just like some people seem to thrive on pressure, apparently turmoil is the fuel for L.O.R.E.’s creative black flame, because Gateways certainly doesn’t sound like the work of a band that may have been on the verge of imploding. In fact, it’s the exact opposite – the product of a group of musicians who’ve grown tremendously in both ability and confidence since the release of their debut (and my #6 album of 2017) Litany of Ruinous Entities last January.

When I premiered “Gateway I,” that was the only song the band sent me from the album, which is a bit unusual. I generally find it helpful to hear the entire record before doing a premiere, so I can hear how the song works within the context of the album as a whole. After my first full listen of Gateways: Between the Scales of Destitution and Ascension, though, I completely understood why they chose to do it that way. I was already surprised enough at how different that one song was from anything on their previous album. If I’d heard the whole thing without having first spent some time with just that one song, the experience would have been damn near overwhelming.

If the slower tempos and clean guitar outro on “Gateway I” showed that L.O.R.E. had a few new colors on their musical palettes, the album’s second track “Destitution,” a short acoustic guitar interlude, makes clear that they aren’t just using new colors – their entire conception of ‘color’ has changed. The acoustic guitar returns again briefly at the beginning of both “Gateway II” and “Gateway IV,” and in both instances it provides a brief, welcome respite from their raw black metal cacophony. Though honestly, Gateways isn’t anywhere near as cacophonous as their debut. Part of me wonders if that’s the result of a change in recording methods – for Litany they set up a Tascam in the middle of their rehearsal space and recorded it live. Gateways definitely sounds more ‘produced,’ but not in a negative way. It’s still black fucking metal – no one’s going to mistake it for the latest offering on Unique Leader Records or anything.

The biggest part of L.O.R.E.’s appeal for me, though, has always been vocalist Nihilus Arcana, a corpse-painted  Rimbaud who writes some of the most torturedly poetic lyrics in black metal, and who delivers them with some of the most painful sounding shrieks I’ve ever heard (though dude from Crimson Throne is right up there as well). The vocal performances on the album are far more varied as well – there’s an effects-laden narration by an unidentified female on “Sonder” that makes his screams seem all the more chilling when they come in later in the song, and takes some of the shrillness out of his shrieks in other places in favor of a more ghastly approach that reminds me a bit of Black Cilice (and as our loyal Vault Hunters know, if I’m referencing a Portuguese band then I’m definitely impressed). As a result, Gateways feels emotionally richer than Litany, which was essentially one long, tortured wail of an album.

However, if I have one criticism with Gateways: Between the Scales of Destitution and Ascension, it’s with the album’s overall length. At just shy of 70 minutes, it’s a lot to digest, and the closing pair of “Ascension” and “Gateway V” account for about a third of that run time, and at a certain point they kind of start to drag. “Ascension” is seven-minutes of ambient keyboard and sparse piano, and the nearly 16-minute “Gateway V” ends with another seven-plus minutes of ambient synth. That late in the album, it’s a bit much. Perhaps if it’d been sequenced differently and “Ascension” appeared earlier on the album, though, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much – though that would have also ruined the conceit of the post-colon part of the album’s title. There may also be layers to what’s happening there which will become clearer with repeated listens – as I mentioned, there’s a lot to digest here, both on the macro, full album level and a micro, individual song level as well.

Regardless of the (over) abundance of ambiance at the end of the album, Gateways: Between the Scales of Destitution and Ascension is an ambitious, outstanding follow-up to an incredibly impressive debut. Much like Haunter in Texas, I think the fact that L.O.R.E. hails from Florida and not one of the higher profile regional scenes has kept them from getting the attention they deserve. Anyone into raw USBM like True Love, Byyrth, or UVSS will find a lot to like about L.O.R.E. as well.

Gateways: Between the Scales of Destitution and Ascension is currently available as a name-your-price download from the L.O.R.E. Bandcamp page. It will soon be available on both CD and cassette, with the latter being available from our friends at Red River Family Records.

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