“Swan Songs III” by Lord of the Lost (LOTL) comes in a few formats, from a one disc version containing 11 new tracks, to a two disc version that includes the aforementioned and one with the re-imagination of 8 well loved LOTL tracks, to some mega versions that include extra discs, books and other content.
This review is of the two disc version, with the 21 tracks tipping the scales at 1 hour and 43 minutes.
Chris Harms and Lord of the Lost are prolific. There have released many albums, be they of new content, or reimagining of previous works.
Chris Harms is their vocalist and instrumentalist (there is no point listing what he plays. He has classical training in many things, including strings, and can play just about anything. You could set him loose in your kitchen and he could play The 1812 Overture.) Harms is obviously busy with own work, but he is frequently also working with and producing the work of others. His is unbelievably clever and is never still. Music seems to be at the core of his being, it’s akin to his heartbeat or brain waves.
Enough of the brilliance of LOTL. What about these albums?
“A Splintered Mind” started simply, with piano and the voice of Harms. This was instantly recognisable and immediately the cleverness of the lyrics were apparent, with lines such as, “Like wooden fragments stuck in my skin.” The vocals were honest and plaintive, as Harms questions whether someone could love a person with a splintered mind.
This set the scene for the entire album – an almost uncomfortably honest sharing of tales of love and being broken. It was like staring into a fire as a great friend bared their soul to you.
This track, like its brethren, had a sense of craftsmanship, of precise engineering. It was orchestral and pretty.
“A One Tonne Heart” weighed in with simple acoustic guitar. Again, there were lyrics that grabbed my attention, such as, “With a one tonne heart, it never breaks all the way.” The track added more elements as it progressed, ebbing and flowing, taking me on a grand ride. Harms’s clear vocals continued to expose the purposeful lyrics.
“Dying on the Moon” was born with a slight shift in tempo and a more obvious emphasis on bass. Harms was joined on this track by Joy Frost, an American an singer and songwriter. Her vocals were heavy with restrained intensity.
This was a somber, graceful dance between them, performed brilliantly.
“Zunya” was a bold offering, at times being about hopelessness and at others bringing into focus the disconnect between heart and mind, or of future and past. The engineering and arrangement were again stellar, with instruments often surfacing from nowhere.
“Unfeel” had a sad and hopeless feeling, with Spanish influenced guitar enriching the sound without overpowering it. There was a strength amongst the sound of the strings that was welcome.
“Deathless” stepped back a little, with a stripped back nature that felt appropriate, given the title. It was about standing beside the one that you love and it added elements as it progressed. The strings were more dominant and it had a march-like, determined feel.
It spoke of being supportive because you are so deeply in love, of being a protector or a guardian angel.
“Agape” left my mouth that way with some hypnotising guitar work. There was no let up from the emotional density of this album so far. Harms’s voice had a slightly rougher element. The track swelled as it progressed and it shared what we’ve felt from time to time – being perfectly happy in our love for someone.
“Hurt Again” was fascinating. The lyrics thanked the one that they loved for being able to be hurt again, that being able to hurt, to bleed or to feel was a blessing, after not feeling anything. It was intriguing, being powerful in its positive perspective about pain.
“Amber” opened with simple guitar and was soon joined by piano flourishes. It was another track about being steadfast in the support and encouragement of another. It finished in a somewhat breathless manner.
“We Were Young (featuring Heaven Can Wait Choir)” had the orchestra joining quickly and the vocal arrangement was stunning. 70 voices were used, along with some robust percussion, resulting in a track where there was always something appending.
There is a danger in such pieces for one aspect to overpower the others, but in this case the elements combined seamlessly, adding abundant interest and depth.
The first rule of Fight Club is… well, you know what it is.
The idea of this track is somewhat like Rule 1. If you’re happy to break the rule, this is explained at the end of this review.
In any case, this track is performed faithfully to the idea of composer John Cage when he wrote it in 1952, in what he described as the most significant and controversial work of his career. It is what you would expect.
“Dying in the Moon – Joyless Version” in this guise added more depth and it was a worthy reimagining, piquing much interest. It is also had me wondering what is possible for every track, wondering what could be done with drive and creativity.
“We Were Young (featuring Heaven Can Wait Choir) – Zdf Version” had the choir taking more focus and it had me marvelling at what humans are capable of, in terms of performance and production. I was enthralled by gorgeous piano and the way that it was partnered by the vocals.
At this point, I fired up CD2, which are re-imaginations of much-loved LOTL tracks. These are like when you do a renovation in your home. The structure is still somewhat familiar, but the space takes on a new life because of the innovations and small changes – resulting in a different feel and an even deeper connection to the space.
“Loreley – Swan Songs III Version” was recognisable immediately. The track felt like a re-imagination and not a remaster, with the vocals being subtly different.
The orchestra gave it an urgency of sound. Harms’s vocals occasionally included a coarser quality and staccato percussion added another element of interest. It also felt like this version allowed Harms to let his voice off the leash a little more, which was fabulous.
“Morgana – Swan Songs III Version” again had the familiarity of the original, but the addition of new elements had me intrigued to see where it was going next. The changes to emphasis and tempo gave it a whole new feel.
“Black Halo – Swan Songs III Version” had a subtle reverb that grabbed me, before it morphed into a track with expansive sound. It’s slower nature brought the lyrics into sharper focus. I also found myself hanging onto the sound of the instruments. I am comfortable with the original version, so when I listened to this one, I found myself being hooked by the points of difference.
“Cut Me Out – Swan Songs III Version” was startlingly different to the original version. This was compelling in itself. It was rich in atmosphere because of the artistic and orchestral arrangement. I really enjoyed the percussion and piano on this one.
“In Silence – Swan Songs III Version” stripped things back a bit, with vocals, piano and acoustic guitar. Then, elements were added with the usual surgical precision to ensure the greatest impact. Gorgeous, surging strings also featured.
“Seven Days of Anavrin – Swan Songs III Version” opened with pulsing percussion that was heartbeat-like. The thickness of the bass in the background added tension. Slow, cycling piano and overall sound added an epic feel. There was a very obvious vocal/ instrumental link in inflection and timing, a perfect partnership.
“My Heart is Black – Swan Songs III Version” opened with a Flamenco-like feeling which lingered as the other elements joined in. The strings added real impact and before you knew it, it became grandiose in sound. As the title suggested, this track was dark in nature and a little disturbing. The intense arrangement added much to the darkness…
“Letters to Home” 18 minutes… This was either going to be epic in nature, or a bloated carcass of self-indulgence.
This is a reworking of the original version from 2012, with about a minute left on the cutting room floor.
The slow and simple beginning set the scene for this track, where the subject matter was a person going to war, leaving his son behind, to “save the world” for his little boy.
It was raw in its portrayal of war, of lost time, of battle, of being injured but holding on, of being scarred and broken, of hanging onto the hope of meeting his son again, of worrying that his son would have forgotten him and of then being reunited.
It swung from complexity to quiet simplicity. It was personal and painful. It had me hanging on every word. This track is like that book that you can’t put down or that TV program that you can’t stop watching.
This was an album of fabulous storytelling, of poignant prose, of heart-felt outpouring of love and the acknowledgement of being imperfect. This was shared with bold orchestration and clever lyrics.
LOTL is a unique experience. Some tracks on other albums are brutal metal. Other tracks are painful, stirring and/or beautiful pieces. But all have incredible musicianship and engineering, augmented by a vast array of instruments, used at precisely the right moment. It’s like gene therapy for music. I often referred to surgical precision, but I do not mean that negatively – elements are used at precisely the right moment for precisely the right impact.
Ever present was instrumental orchestral intensity. But, I was frequently hanging on the lyrics. These were genius – turns of phrase that intrigued, comparisons between ideals that served to encourage deeper thought and words that inspired deep emotional connection.
Chris Harms’s voice was plaintive, compelling and honest. He tended to stick to a narrow range and intensity, but when he deviated from that, it was made even more noticeable.
This was an experience that you got lost in, that you surrendered to. Each track is what you expect, but never precisely so. There lies the genius – you hang on every moment, keen to experience each unfolding of the tale.
Yes, yes, “4’33””
4′33″ (pronounced “four minutes, thirty-three seconds” or just “four thirty-three”) is a three movement piece that lasts 4’33”, composed by American composer John Cage in 1952. It is used for any combination of instruments and instructs the players to not play their instruments…
So, what you hear, is them NOT playing – you hear the ambient noise, if any. You could argue that it is 4’33” of silence.
Or, that is boldly brilliant.