We are firmly set in the renaissance of deathcore. The new wave of bands resurrecting the genre out of the mires of tired tropes and mediocrity of countless less than stellar copies of bands like Suicide Silence, Whitechapel, Carnifex, Thy Art is Murder, Chelsea Grin which were among the biggest names in the first wave. While some like Whitechapel, Carnifex, and Despised Icon have adapted their sound to appeal to newer audiences and re-engage old fans, many of the veteran bands have been cast to the side to make way to the new champions. Shadow of Intent, Enterprise Earth, Infant Annihilator, Shrine of Malice, Angelmaker, Signs of the Swarm, and a few others are the new flagbearers. New Jersey’s Lorna Shore are no strangers to the genre, but with 2020’s Immortal, they may very well be counted among the best.
Lorna Shore has been toying with greatness for some time now, with Psalms and Flesh Coffin tickling audiences yet failing to grant them mainstream success. Immortal had a strange and rocky road to release, with half the record being released as singles, which may have been genius marketing or a misstep depending on perspective. Moreso, the unapologetic and unanimous ejection of the vocalist due to severe scandal, mere weeks before the release of the record called the nature and timeline of its release into question. Ultimately, Lorna Shore and the label decided to move forward with the release of Immortal as is, without needing to go back to the studio and record all the vocal tracks with a new member.
Lorna Shore is what Carnifex wished it could be. They take Carnifex’s blackened approach to deathcore and ramps the core and black metal elements to new levels. Where Carnifex leans heavily on extended range djents for its signature sound, Lorna Shore relies on technicality and melody. Immortal kicks off with one of its many singles and titular namesake, and the first few seconds tell listeners in no uncertain terms that strings, horns, and symphonic orchestrations are king on this record, then drops us headfirst into razorwire riffs and a melodic chorus which keeps on giving, hours after listening to the entire record. The outro string accompaniment must be a nod to Finnish melodeath like Kalmah.
This is still a deathcore record, so fret not, the slams and chugs haven’t left us to let, but when used with masterful restraint as is on Immortal, they lend special meaning. This is Hell, King ov Deception, Death Portrait, Darkest Spawn, are ruthlessly pummeling and would instantly put a smile on any ardent deathcore fan. Misery System is basically a slam/brutal death metal track with orchestral elements to remind us that we are still listening to Lorna Shore. Obsession opens with and is adorned with arrangements heavily influenced by Fallujah and Cattle Decapitation with its ambience and wall-of-sound sections, and Hollow Sentence opens with a triumphantly positive keyboard arrangement again reminding us of the influence of the European symphonic death metal scene. These gems make Immortal truly rewarding to consumers of diverse genres within metal.
Immortal has every single member of Lorna Shore firing on all cylinders. The performances of lead guitarist Adam De Micco and rhythm guitarist Andrew O’Connor make Lorna Shore what they are today. De Micco and O’Connor throw riffs, breakdowns, Tritonal black metal flutter tremolo runs, chugs, slams, ambient solos, painting a dense soundscape with newer intricacies exposed with each successive listen. De Micco’s solos on tracks like Immortal, Death Portrait, and Darkest Spawn are dizzying and memorable in equal measure. Drummer Austin Archey is a beast behind the kit, and his arrangements are the perfect foundation for the guitars, strings, and vocals to build upon. The mature approach to songwriting these guys belies their age and would make much older musicians blush. The symphonic arrangements interlock with the guitars in a mind-melding way, adding another dimension to the blackened nature of the sound Lorna Shore champion on Immortal. Layers upon layers of strings, violin samples, choral chants, keys, etc. are positively Dimmu Borgir-ian, and even get as cheesily overdone to a point where it resembles Behemoth.
The vocals on Immortal may very well be the new standard for budding deathcore vocalists all over the world. Ex-vocalist CJ McCreery, is no stranger to slam-core gutturals coming from Signs of the Swarm replacing vocalist Tom Barber (now with Chelsea Grin). With Lorna Shore and Immortal, he throws everything and the kitchen sink at the mic. The entire record is flush with his hellish gutturals, tortured shrieks, and maniacal barks. There is something horrifyingly beautiful about his larger-than-life vocals cutting through the malevolent soundscapes created by the guitars and orchestrations. His unintelligible plunges into the bowels of hell itself on Death Portrait and King Ov Deception should be isolated and presented to anyone who says that present-day extreme metal lacks the menace of old-school bands. The controversy leading up to his abrupt removal from Lorna Shore is catastrophically tragic and will need to be included in the “separate the art from the artist” list. It is truly unfortunate that future performances and records by Lorna Shore will not feature McCreery’s talent, albeit justifiably so, but he has left incredibly large shoes to fill.
It would be easy to call Immortal a near-perfect record, and my qualms are severely in nitpicking territory. If there was anything this fan misses from earlier Lorna Shore releases, it would be a higher frequency of breakneck pace riffs which are too few and far between on Immortal. This could be in efforts to highlight the heavier emphasis on melody and symphony-forward songwriting. The few occurrences of signature Psalms-era riffs are thrilling and a higher emphasis on guitar work would have pushed Immortal into the magnum-opus territory. The in-your-face theatrical element brought on by the string sections, while menacing and fantastic, tend to be overbearing and ever-present. The mix also puts the rhythm guitars too far in the background, washed out by the pronounced strings and vocals. The boosted high-mids and highs of the guitars remove some of the punch from the slammy breakdowns and muddle an already crowded space Even after several listens, it’s tough to discern where the higher register guitar runs to end and the strings take over. A mature hand of restraint and balance would have made every element shine more and would have brought the guitars back into the limelight. As a personal parting thought, Lorna Shore should employ a full-time keyboardist for live performances as relying on backing tracks for the string sections in live shows so inherent to Immortal may cheapen the overall experience.
Immortal is a bombastic proclamation of brutality heightened by symphonic magnificence. A terrifyingly cohesive package of technicality and overt blasphemy. Lorna Shore is no longer underground, no longer underdogs, sleeping on them would be criminal.