July 2, 2021 Lord of the Lost – Judas (Album Review)
If you are a prolific, genre-fluid band such as Lord of the Lost, can one collection ever truly be considered your magnum opus? Ultimately, whether it is the best of the best is up to listeners, but these German visionaries are set to deliver a larger than life double album, Judas, that is a bold contender for the title. The religious experience is set to be unveiled on Friday, July 2, 2021 thanks to Napalm Records.
It’s never too long between albums when you are as dedicated and passionate as the members of Lord of the Lost—Chris Harms (vocals, guitar, cello), Pi Stoffers (guitar), Class Grenayde (bass), Gared Dirge (piano, synth, percussion, guitar), and Niklas Kahl (drums, percussion). We last heard from the multi-talented, nonconformist unit in August of 2020, when they delivered the third installment of their much loved Swan Songs series. Before that, they offered up several EPs, 2019’s 4-disc best of collection Till Death Do Us Part, and 2018 brought the CD/DVD Confession (Live in Christuskirche) as well as the double studio LP Thornstar.
Considering they have released over 500 hours of music over the past three years (slight exaggeration, perhaps), it’s even more astounding that their seventh studio offering is a tour de force of 24 tracks spread across two LPs. The album, a Rock-n-Roll opera centered around the infamous Judas Iscariot—whom is said to have betrayed Jesus Christ—uses the non-secular character as a leitmotif for its sophisticated look at everything from salvation to biblical history, looking beyond to question the legitimacy of our legacies when they are merely the stories left behind by onlookers. Each of us a savior and a devil, we are reflected in the mirror that Judas provides in its intense philosophical journey, but the details of the conceptual masterpiece that resonate loudest must be discovered on each listener’s own terms.
Blurring the lines between good and evil, Judas is divided into two parts—Damnation and Salvation—composed of 12 songs each. Themed around one of Christianity’s most infamous traitors, the album is steeped in religiosity—a fact that, if you somehow missed it, is immediately apparent with first track “Priest.” Using Iscariot as a metaphor for the gray area of sin, reminding us that “we are all at fault,” the uniquely dramatic composition does not immediately strike as an earworm. A fact that intentionally forces listeners to delve deeper, to allow it to undulate through their bodies as they absorb its message and eventually become enthralled. Will the implications of the track and Judas, as a whole, piss some people off? Probably, but since when has “Lord” Harms censored himself?
Understanding that Judas is meant to challenge your beliefs, and some biblical knowledge won’t hurt, the album opens its arms wide as a choir calls to the heavens in “For They Know Not What They Do.” Here, Harm’s sultry baritone is complemented by piano and Grenayde’s thick bass, toying with the combination of angelic moments and gritty Rock-n-Roll. It all ends with a melancholic piano interlude that perfectly bridges into “Your Star Has Led You Astray,” a track that might have fit Thornstar beautifully, musically speaking.
In fact, Judas plays off all the facets of the band’s sonic personality, offering listeners everything from delicious synths (“The 13th”) to funereal poetry (“Death Is Just a Kiss Away”). For those that fear the band has shunned their synth-driven roots, they offer “The Heart Is a Traitor,” while “Born With a Broken Heart” draws together everything you love about Lord of the Lost to craft an insta(nt) fan-favorite. A shoe-in for the next Swan Songs installment, the latter perfectly displays the passionate fire and thoughtful artistry that goes into the band’s compositions.
Not to be overlooked, they round out Damnation with some of the heaviest and catchiest moments (“2000 Years a Pyre”), thus far, as well as redemptive piano (“Euphoria”), spine-tingling intimacy (“The Death of All Colours”), an epic instrumental (“Be Still and Know”), and the grand, gothic elegy “In the Field of Blood.” If it all sounds a bit overwhelming, it is—and there’s more!
Salvation twists the narrative to offer another perspective. As such, the drama of “Priest” is reflected in its counterpart, “The Gospel of Judas.” Referencing a non-canonical, somewhat controversial gospel that paints Judas as an obedient disciple to Jesus, rather than a betrayer, the track sets a mood that is carried throughout the album’s second half. From the seductive stomp of “Viva Vendetta” to the choral flourishes of “The Ashes of Flowers” to grooving rocker “Iskarioth,” dimension is given to the story as the band remains defiant in the face of genre boundaries.
What amounts to a case for Iscariot’s innocence, a misunderstanding that has persisted for well beyond 2,000 years, Salvation travels through the sweeping pleas of “Argent” to stunning power ballad (but so much more) “The Heartbeat of the Devil.” There’s a moment spent with an ‘80s influence on “And It Was Night,” where we are handed a cinematic presentation of the Stygian shadows, and a flawless display of Harms’ powerhouse vocals on “My Constellation.”
And much as how their subject is not always what it appears to be, each song is a shapeshifter. We discover this in the experimental pacing of “A War Within,” amidst the theatrical tragedy and soaring hope of “A World Where We Belong,” within the solemn instrumental salvation of “Apokatastasis,” and, ultimately, the album’s finale, “Work of Salvation,” an ode to he who led us from the darkness into the light.
With Judas, Lord of the Lost align their multiple sonic personalities to offer a grand undertaking that is a larger than life endeavor from a band known for bold productions. And as they constantly compete with themselves, the quintet has once again made their fans the winners. Evolving from the ashes of Thornstar‘s doomed civilization, they reincarnate themselves to grapple with faith and the accuracy of its written foundations. It is a reminder to each of us that there are always infinite dimensions to every tale, but also, beyond this base level, a discussion of defiance and legacy.
It is in these underlayers that the album feels personal. Much like the central figure in this opus, Lord of the Lost continually chooses to defy. They repeatedly infiltrate their own compositions to juxtapose new elements in a bid to redefine—genre and themselves. Does their nonconformity make them a villain, a Judas in the eyes of some? And if our time on this oblate spheroid amounts to scribbled notes inside another’s book, what will the epitaph for these eclectic Germans read?
Cliché though it may sound, Judas is much more than just a record: it is a religious experience intended to tickle the ears as it provokes the mind, though it will ultimately find its home in the heart. A magnum opus? Indeed. That is why Cryptic Rock emphatically gives Lord of the Lost’s latest 5 of 5 stars. (If you can pick a favorite song on first listen, bless your traitorous little heart!)