Portland, Oregon's Lord Dying has been making a name for themselves fairly quick since storming onto the scene. The group originally formed back in 2010, issuing their self-titled demo in 2011, and a Fall Tour EP a year later. Come 2013 they signed to the powerhouse known as Relapse Records for their debut album Summon the Faithless, cementing themselves as a growing force to be reckoned with in the Sludge Metal world. After a quick line-up change of Rob Shaffer (Dark Castle, former Yob) taking over drumming duties from J. Reid in 2014, Lord Dying return with their follow-up fuil-length Poisoned Altars. But does this new outing show any growth for the group, or is it a major step backwards for the potential giants?

Much like their previous outing, Poisoned Altars sounds rich and powerful thanks to a booming bass presence that demands your attention over the thick guitar distortions that sound like they were meant for a Death Metal album, as well as a crisp drum presence that is at just enough of a lower level to fill the music without being largely ignored. Of course the gristled shouting fans have come to expect, both from the band and genre as a whole, is present, backed by a slight echo that gives them a little more edge overall. Of course, with Jon having departed, this duty is left entirely to guitarist Erik Olson, who also handled vocal duties in the past. On his own, however, it all becomes a bit more cohesive, and even allows him to display some additional range that wasn't quite available on the previous outings. All of this comes together to form a surprisingly varied collection of anger-fuelled Sludge Metal anthems.

The bass guitar introduces itself right away on "Poisoned Altars". This adds a little more energy to the already enthusiastic performance that is filled with infectious grooves in the main verses, and a chorus that brings it to a dull hum that works with the simpler, lower toned riffs in more of a ritualistic manner that hypnotizes you into becoming the band's bitch as you bob your head along to the rhythms obediently. "A Wound Outside of Time" tries to recapture that throughout the whole song, but isn't quite as enchanting as before. It's easy to immerse yourself in the slow paced and hazy material that comes off more like a smoke-filled early Doom Metal performance with some additional Hardcore hooks thrown in for intimidation's sake.

While the aforementioned sound of the album really works with the aggressive compositions, it does make some of the less hostile performances rather conflicting, but still pretty kick ass. "Suckling at the Teat of a She-Beast" has a harsher approach to the vocals sometimes, hammering some deeper, simpler riffs and drums into the skull of the listener between more Crust-Punk fuelled segments, such as the start of the track. There's a good balance between the two, even when the guitar solo appears to head into an authoritative Hardcore groove, only to shift into Neoclassical turf. That Hardcore tone can also be felt earlier on during The Clearing at the End of the Path", which can sometimes carry that genre similarly to Pro-Pain.

Finally there's "An Open Sore", which is the band's crowning achievement with this recording, as well as the most intriguing with how radio friendly it can end up being. This doesn't take away any impact though, as it's still a heavy performance that is clearly emotionally charged, working with some of those more accessible grooves to elevate beyond ninety percent of the generic garbage modern mainstream channels have to offer. Heavy distortions and a generally fed up tone of misery compliment the performance perfectly, finding some clean vocals added in towards the end that don't need to exist but still work for for the forlorn tone the band tries effortlessly to achieve. In the end it's the most memorable cut, presenting you with a heartfelt composition that feels like a message from someone on the brink of a mental breakdown.

Compared to their debut full-length, Poisoned Altar is a far more refined experience that isn't afraid to incorporate some of the style's influences to not only create an aggressive and often ritualistically infectious outing, but also a surprisingly emotional one at times. Despite being one founding member down, it's clear that Lord Dying have only matured in the past two years, which is exciting news indeed for fans of Sludge Metal. With so many bands emerging on the scene, it's easy to get lost in the mix, and while Lord Dying aren't quite rising to the top yet, there's no arguing they will soon become a dominant, recognizable entity within that field. So for now, fans of Summon the Faithless, or just those looking to add more Sludge to their diet, will find Poisoned Altars something well worth diving headlong into.

Review originally composed for Apoch's Metal Review.