(Andy Synn would like to enlighten you about the new album from Washington’s Swamp Lantern)
One of the great joys involved in being a music writer – and I’m sure many, if not most, if not all, of my fellows would agree – is discovering a band and then watching them grow into their full potential.
Case in point, when I reviewed Swamp Lantern‘s debut back in 2020 I immediately felt that this was a band who had “it”, even if they didn’t quite have a handle on exactly what “it” was.
Their second album, however, takes that hard-to-define x-factor and improves on it in pretty much every single way, offering up an even more refined and robust version of what was already a pretty riveting sound, with a stronger sense of identity, a clearer creative vision, and a more instinctive grasp of flow and dynamic.
Despite the fact that The Lord is With Us is over fifteen minutes shorter than Phantasms, I can guarantee that you won’t ever feel short-changed , as they five tracks which make up the band’s new album are altogether more focussed and fully-formed, each one more densely packed with brawny riffs, burly bass-lines, and brooding melodies, than anything from the band’s debut, to the point where it really feels like Swamp Lantern have spent the last couple of years condensing all the very best aspects of their music into a more concise and coherent form, while simultaneously learning a few new tricks along the way.
Opener “Blood Oath (On Pebble Beach)” is a perfect example of this (and a pretty perfect introduction to the album to boot) as it showcases both the increased weight and presence of the band’s bombastic, doom-laden grooves, and how much wider the scope of their ambition is – especially when it comes to their use of melody and harmony, atmosphere and ambience – all while building towards a climactic cacophony of furious, writhing riffage and violent, hammering drums.
“Still Life” provides a similarly thrilling juxtaposition of opposing forces – half drifting, dream-like melody, half heaving, hypnotic heaviness – while “Graven Tide” is equal parts hooky and proggy, doomy and nasty (especially when it comes to the vicious, blackened bite of the vocals), after which the instrumental title-track delivers a more mellow and moodily mellifluous trip to settle and soothe your senses.
This ebb and flow is a huge part of what makes each track so successful, and even the finale, “The Halo of Eternal Night” (perhaps the only track to really retain some of the goth-y feel of their debut) plays a clever game of bait-and-switch with your expectations, building slowly but surely from its grim ‘n’ gothic Americana roots towards a sludgy, Black ‘n’ Roll crescendo of gritty vocals and gargantuan groove, all topped off with a psybocilic dose of soaring lead guitar.
As catchy and compelling as they may be, however, it’s not just the individual quality of each of these songs which makes The Lord is With Us so good.
No, it’s the overarching and irresistible vibe of the album – doomy yet dynamic, gloomy yet dripping with groove, laced with subtle psychedelic threads and flavoured with a sharp, smoky taste of blackened bitterness – which serves to make it more than just the mere sum of its parts.
Much like its colourful yet creepy artwork, The Lord is With Us promises a devilishly good time, and delivers even more than you bargained for. It’s the sort of album that gets better, and grows on you – fungus-like – with each and every listen. And my advice is just to accept that once it gets under your skin absolutely nothing is going to get rid of it. So you might as well just enjoy it.