What a rollercoaster the last few years have been for Lorna Shore. Shortly after completing its big label debut Immortal and before the tour even started, vocalist CJ McReery was kicked to the curb for allegedly vile and reprehensible behavior. Considering extra-extreme vocals were one of the band’s pillars, they needed to find a unicorn on short notice. Enter Will Ramos stage left, originally recruited as a stand-in, who proceeded to casually go viral over the course of the pandemic. Single “To the Hellfire” off the …And I Return To Nothingness The EP became an overnight sensation, receiving a bunch of Song of the Year accolades. It cemented Ramos as the new face of the band, and in that capacity, he leaned into the social media wave, his good-natured boyish charm a wholesome antidote to the nasty aftertaste left by McReery. Now he finally gets to strut his stuff with the band in long form.
My experience with Lorna Shore thus far, aside from two shows with Ramos already on vocals, has largely been contained to a passing spin or two of Immortal and “To the Hellfire.” In this limited exposure, the band always struck me as fervent adherents to the Yngwie Malmsteen principle of “more is more,” and Pain Remains largely cements that view. Symphonic maximalism, big breakdowns, bludgeoning blast-beat assaults, Ramos’ laryngeal acrobatics, and a running time of just past the hour, “over the top” is the bare minimum here. It’s easy to get lost in the maelstrom initially, especially when the structures employed by the opener “Welcome Back, O’ Sleeping Dreamer” is decidedly non-euclidean. But barbed hooks soon take over. Both “Sun//Eater” and “Cursed to Die” let the orchestration dictate the melodic choruses while committing the rest of its instrumentation to battering artillery strikes, while “Soulless Existence” swerves toward a more traditional route with furious leads that manage to worm its way into your brain. The final self-titled trilogy, on the other hand, inches closer to the Fallujah and xenobiotic school of emotional hyper-charge with satisfying intensity.
Such variety does a good job of keeping the record from going stale. What seems difficult to penetrate at first opens up into a remarkably accessible experience, hewing closer to extreme melodic death metal with additional breakdowns. Part of the initial wall is the production, which is dense to the point of flattening the music (an issue not unheard of in deathcore, to be sure). Combine this with multiple layers of symphonics and frequent double-tracked vocals to get a sound of oppressive density, mitigated only by its quite decent mix. Furthermore, the breakdowns are not quite to the level of the remainder of the music. It seems that the success of “To the Hellfire” has convinced Lorna Shore that all its breakdowns should follow the same template, and they wind up almost entirely interchangeable as a result. Let Ramos show off and add blasts to every syllable is the creed, and these could have been woven into the tracks better.
There is a reason for this philosophy, though: Ramos is just really, really good at what he does. When I first saw him on the cusp of the pandemic, I was impressed, and he only seems to have gotten better. Being able to do cavernous growls, throat-ripping screeches, gnarly screams, and the rest of the unholy rainbow of demonic possession is one thing, but he can switch from style to style on a dime, adding more dimensions to the music without ever compromising on technical execution. The interchangeable breakdowns are not less of an issue in the face of his skill set, but it does mean that they never get boring or annoying to listen to.
on the whole, Pain Remains is not a flawless album. It’s definitely on the long side, especially with the dense production. Losing the opener and perhaps a breakdown or two would not have hurt it. But these issues pale in the face of everything that’s done well. Its maximalist attitude works because everything remains tight, cohesive, and colossal, balancing brutal heaviness with engaging hooks and garnished with one of the best vocalists in extreme music today. Lorna Shore managed to get through a difficult situation and come out on top, and I suspect this is just their initiation in the halls of deathcore royalty.
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: lornashorestore.com | facebook.com/lornashore
Releases Worldwide: October 14th, 2022