REVIEW: LORNA SHORE – “Pain Remains”
Lorna Shore are no longer the underdogs of deathcore. In fact, they could nearly be among the most talked-about bands in deathcore and modern extreme metal as an emergent genre. I reviewed their previous record Immortal here and claimed that they were no longer the upstarts with something to prove. With their most recent EP, … and I Return to Nothingness, they shot straight up to celebrity status and are now the ones everyone is looking at. Their first release post-pandemic, Pain Remains, will be their most talked album for months to come and will be part of the wider deathcore discussion for much longer.
Following 2020s gigantic Immortal was no mean feat, but Lorna Shore doubled down on their symphony-infused blackened deathcore with the release of 2021’s … and I Return to Nothingness. This EP was everything people loved (and hated) on Immortal ramped up to a 666 on a scale of one to ten. The three-track journey was a sonic escapade in just how far the envelope could possibly be pushed. In particular, “To The Hellfire” became THE Lorna Shore track; virally trending on social media, buoyed by the onslaught of “reaction channels” on youtube and “meme clips” that sampled the track on TikTok and Instagram. Lorna Shore is a prime example of the sheer power and momentum that is social media in catapulting your career from underground to the limelight over the course of a few weeks. Suddenly, even non-deathcore, non-metal fans were talking about the “dinosaur” vocals on “To The Hellfire”, and Lorna Shore was everything people could talk about. The frankly ridiculous breakdowns, over-the-top layers of symphonic insanity, blistering guitar riffs, and razorwire solos pushed the tracks into instant replay territory. But it was the vocal break at the end of “To The Hellfire”, that permanently scarred Lorna Shore into the ears and minds of the listening population. The animalistic growls courtesy of new vocalist Will Ramos became the example of extreme metal vocals. As a personal note, as much as I found “To The Hellfire” as enjoyable as the next deathcore nerd, I rather enjoyed “Of the Abyss” a lot more, and the title track “… and I Return to Nothingness” was by far the most replayed track off that EP.
This lengthy introduction is merely to highlight the enormous shoes that Lorna Shore had to fill on any release post-Immortal and post-ReturnToNothingness. In that regard, the fame that this band accrued over the last few years and releases would ultimately become their own worst enemy. Pain Remains is their response to their own ever-growing hype and the band has been open about the mental struggles of writing a follow-up to such well-received and viral records while still maintaining authenticity to their craft and message.
With regards to the way I consumed this record, we can look at it in three parts: the singles, the non-singles, and the Pain Remains Extravaganza!
Part 1: The Singles
Full disclosure: I ran the three (plus one of the Extravaganza) singles into the ground in the weeks leading up to receiving the pre-release review copy of the record. With my review of Immortal I remarked that the release style of several singles weeks (if not months) before the official release can come back to bite the band in terms of creating a dichotomy of excitement and eventual fatigue. With a third of the album being released as singles, this is a sizable chunk for the general population to consume, over-analyze, and most importantly, give hyperspeed feedback to the band, both positive and negative. “The Singles” on Pain Remains are the hyperblast “Into the Earth”, the balanced “Sun//Eater” and the melodic “Cursed to Die”. These are the tracks that have already formed the opening salvo of impressions of Pain Remains, for better or worse. In large sweeps, the singles are an extension of the formula crafted on Immortal and perfected on the EP that followed. Much of the complaints levied at the record at this point, after consuming “the singles” were that Lorna Shore had settled into a comfortable songwriting workflow, to a point that they were rewriting multiple versions of “… and I Return to Nothingness”, with mass critique harshly judging their song structures as largely copy-paste to each other. There is truth in these accusations, as Lorna Shore sticks very close to the following structure: grand orchestral intro ambience, high-BPM string-skipped verse riff, blackened chord pre-chorus, intro melody with the double bass chorus, breakdown, slower breakdown with the vocal meme, grand chorus, verse riff, breakdown, outro. Counter to the faction of structural cliché-haters are the fans who aver that Lorna Shore is merely doing what every metal band has done since the dawn of time.
This reviewer, while empathetic to the plight of decades of songwriting history, does tend to side with the faction that says that the singles do become largely interchangeable after several listens. Not to say that “Into the Earth” isn’t among the fastest and most aggressively paced songs in their catalog, or that “Cursed to Die” has an incredibly memorable central melody. It is on “Cursed to Die” that you see the first glimpses of the melody that ties Pain Remains together.
Part 2: The Non-Singles
The “new” material on Pain Remains comes in the form of the album intro “Welcome Back O’ Sleeping Dreamer”, “Soulless Existence”, “Apotheosis”, and “Wrath”. Opener “Welcome Back…” sets up this new iteration of Lorna Shore, with a bombastic Latin-chant infused symphonic arrangement with enough cinematic appeal to make every deathcore high school band instantly want to copy, while also cheesy enough to make Dimmu Borgir blush. Within short order, we are dropped into among the “trvest black” riff and scream sounding a lot like Dark Funeral and Dimmu Borgir’s hellspawn. Much of what follows is your “usual fare of dizzyingly fast blackened deathcore” that Lorna Shore fans would instantly find comfort in. While an enjoyable track, all it really does is set up the new record and does so in no uncertain terms. However, it is “Soulless Existence” that truly caught my attention. With a slower intro riff and near-intelligible verse vocals, this new change of pace is quite a breath of fresh air after the trio of singles of growl-over-riff that was amply covered in the previous paragraphs. “Soulless Existence” has a central orchestral melody that most closely resembles “Cursed to Die” with its pacing and memorability. It is only the last third of the track, when the lead kicks in, layering on tons of ambience, and whammy-bar caressed solo, that I realized that THIS is what future Lorna needs more of on future releases. In the space created at the end of this song, with just enough string backup but with the guitar solo doing most of the work, Lorna stumbled onto something truly special. The solo has elements lifted straight from the Fallujah/Rivers of Nihil playbook, and boy is it satisfying. The emotional heft created by this songwriting tool solidifies the anguish that Pain Remains is trying to convey. Lorna Shore, please more of this!
Unfortunately, as far as the non-singles go, “Souless Existence” is the only one that stuck with me hours and days after listening to it; “Apotheosis” and “Wrath” going more on the way of “the singles” in reverting to the tried-and-true Lorna Shore formula. At this point, it feels like Lorna is almost gaslighting us into believing the keyboard melodies aren’t exactly the same across various tracks, or so close to each other that they are blending together into one big mush of operatic saccharinity. It is sad that even after several detailed listens of tracks like “Welcome Back…” and “Apotheosis”, and “Wrath”, there aren’t many standout riffs or sections or breakdowns, that I could possibly repeat or even remember. There is something to be said about the dripping malice contained in the appropriately named “Wrath”, especially with the gang chants and the vocal timbre chosen which would impress even the most diehard of black metal audiences. “Wrath” also contains this record’s flavor of the “To The Hellfire” viral vocal performance.
Part 3: The Pain Remains Extravaganza!
Oh boy, did Lorna Shore save the absolute best for last! On a related note, I see many of the modern deathcore bands releasing a “trilogy” of tracks to close out their latest records. Shadow of Intent did the same thing on Elegy to great success. Anyway, Lorna Shore did it as well, and the first movement “Pain Remains I: Dancing Like Flames” is their last pre-release single, and yikes, it’s… a ballad?
Except it’s a symphonic blackened deathcore ballad?
Except that it’s Lorna Shore playing a symphonic blackened deathcore ballad! A ballad with plenty of Lorna-string skippy riffs at that. The ballad aspect properly kicks in with the pre-chorus and chorus bringing in the central leitmotif of the entirety of Pain Remains as a trilogy and as an album. The band has mentioned that a core message brought forward with the imagery, lyrics, and general tone on Pain Remains was the anguish of loss. This message becomes readily apparent in this first movement, with a music video describing the tragic loss of love by the failing vicissitudes of this mortal shell. Also featured on “Dancing Like Flames” as a probable first are whispered cleans, and another round of intelligible lyrics, this time with the deeply emotional quote of “I finally see, that a world without you… isn’t meant for me!” dropping us into the leitmotif of the Pain Remains movement. The sharp cut-off at the end of the first movement, while jarring, serves as a transition towards the more aggressive second movement.
While “Dancing Like Flames” sets up grief, “After All I’ve Done, I’ll Disappear” fully explains the sheer desperation of that grief and the absolute violence that sadness brings. This track is my clear favorite on Pain Remains, most closely resembling my most favored track on the EP “And I Return to Nothingness” for many of the same reasons. It is the culmination of the story that Lorna Shore set out to tell us with this record. Just when I think Lorna Shore has thrown everything at us by this point, they play the card I fully expected them to play, the same card that made “And I Return…” my favorite. After the orchestral break, they played the “THE KEY CHANGE” card. I knew it was coming, I saw it coming from a mile away, but when it hit, I smiled so hard while windmilling my neck off its socket. I couldn’t help but exclaim “THIS IS $#@$@!# LORNA SHORE!”. My only complaint was that they saved this key change money shot for the album closer, “In A Sea of Fire”, when they bring the central melody back. Ending the record with the key change would have made me a happy little Lorna Shore fanboy. With the album closer, Lorna Shore decided to end Pain Remains with a bang rather than a whimper, featuring probably the most memorable string-skipped riff with ascending root notes. Bringing the melody back one last time, as a triumphant wave, as a victory march, as their own eulogy for all the suffering they put themselves through to write this monster of a trilogy and the crazy feat of putting out this album at all!
Surely, by this point, the reader is aware that I could pour another five hundred words and it would still feel like Pain Remains was being underserved. However, this record isn’t without complaint. For many, it will not be the breakout that Immortal was, by virtue of it being such a leap forward from their previous releases. A record that would spawn a hundred milquetoast copycat bands, each of whom were trying to jump on that blackened deathcore train that Lorna Shore seemed to be driving. In that regard, and as previously mentioned, Lorna Shore was their own archnemesis. It was nigh impossible to top Immortal and the internet hit that was their next EP. In contrast to Immortal which explored your run-of-the-mill deathcore tropes, Lorna Shore decided to write a more cogent record with a more recurring message with Pain Remains, and in that regard, they have largely succeeded. Yes, there are complaints that “the singles” are “just more Lorna” and that is a justifiable complaint, but there is plenty of pizzazz on the non-singles, and definitely on the trilogy to break away from their own mold.
More justifiable complaints levied against Pain Remains was that the breakdowns seemed largely superfluous to the record and did more to hamper the momentum generated by the tracks that add any gravitas to them. The breakdowns felt severely tacked on and hamfisted, doing nothing new that a thousand other bands haven’t done before, serving as a mere vehicle to inform us that they are “still heavy deathcore” or provide a suitable backdrop for more vocal acrobatics. Added to that, it is becoming increasingly true that while the drums on Pain Remains is rock solid, and are probably at the head of the pack in the genre, they are becoming more of a background tool rather than a unique voice. Drummer Austin Archey has been instrumental in shaping the sound that Lorna Shore has been carefully crafting over the last few releases, but his drum lines are becoming staler as the tracks and albums wear on.
Rhythm guitarist Andrew O’Connor severely feels like the forgotten stepchild of the Lorna Shore family, when all the orchestral goodness seems to be coming out of his brain. Along with this, he is a rock-solid guitarist. Unfortunately, he is overshadowed by the absolute titan that is lead guitarist Adam DeMicco who is quickly becoming the embodiment of the Lorna Shore machine. His riffs are iconic, his solos are technically superlative, and he adds more weight to the expansive flavors on solos featured on the trilogy extravaganza among other tracks. As a great compliment to Pain Remains, this record has raised the production values on the guitars and they are thankfully more audible on this record as compared to their “kvlt” choices on the previous EP. However, there is much to be said about just how drowned-out many of the riffs feel especially when being punched down by the heavy use of strings and layer-upon-layer of overdubs. Lorna Shore shines truly brightly when they scale back the bombast and allows individual elements to stand on their own merit rather than crumble into a mess of chaotic confusion.
Obviously, no conversation about Lorna Shore would be complete without talking about the vocals. After the unceremonious departure of CJ McCreery before the release of Immortal, the new vocalist quickly became a household name with their EP and the now-memed “To The Hellfire” with his velociraptor noises! Pain Remains much of the same vocal rollercoasters that Ramos brings to the table. In particular, his work at the end of “Into the Earth” is singularly Travis-esque (Cattle Decapitation), and “Wrath”s outro is the new “To The Hellfire”. My largest complaint with the vocals on Pain Remains and vocals on Lorna Shore records is that there is simply too much, much too much of it! I sincerely wish future records feature a dramatic scale-back of the vocals to allow the instrumentation to cut through. However, after seeing how much vocals and vocalists drive internet hype in this genre, I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future.
As a final gripe, the choice of album art is a conversation unto itself. When first released, it met severe backlash owing to its stark “simplicity” and directness of imagery. This was especially abrupt after the much more atmospheric artwork pieces for each of the released singles. However, the band stood by their choices as they claimed that the chosen cover art better encapsulates the core beliefs that tied Pain Remains together. Your mileage may vary!
Pain Remains is a testament that Lorna Shore can still hold their own and not crumble under the weight of their own escalated stardom, by being a collection of aggression, evil, anguish, and depth in a way that fans will truly find dear to their hearts. A flag standard record in the genre.