Exclusive: Lord Dying Turn Tragedy Into A Prog-Metal Masterpiece
Up until now, Portland, Oregon’s Lord Dying have been a metal band, dealing in art of teeth-gnashing, rage-filled, sludgy thrash. But their third album has turned their entire sound on its head: It’s a layered, intricate, downright beautiful progressive-rock opus entitled Mysterium Tremendum — a concept record they said was intended to be written about life, but after the sudden, unexpected death of guitarist Chris Evans’ sister and a cancer diagnosis for both of vocalist/guitarist Erik Olson’s parents, ultimately ended up being written about death.
In Latin, “mysterium tremendum” translates to “terrible mystery,” and throughout history, including in a few Biblical verses, has generally been used in conjunction with the great questions that link all of us together: Why are we here? Who or what made us? What happens when we die?
“It’s a concept that Chris and I have had for a long time,” says Erik over the phone from Portland. “It’s interesting — there are different meanings to it. For me, it’s sort of an encompassing of all things. It’s like the journey of life and death. But also pre and post. So everything is a cycle. Sort of like the ouroboros. And Chris sees it in a pretty similar way as well.”
The band says they took a year and a half to conceptualize and meticulously write, demo, and piece together every song before heading to the studio — sober — a stark contrast to their early days, when they were partying hard and just letting the songs come together organically in their practice space. Amidst all of this, Erik has also been on a quest to travel all around the world — he currently has 101 countries under his belt, including North Korea — so he’s had plenty of time to mull over his creative concepts with fresh perspectives. And the difference is obvious: the result sounds like an entirely new band, complete with clean singing Erik says was a result of listening to a ton of Pink Floyd and Queen. That said, thrashers need not worry, as it’s still earth-shatteringly heavy, and there are still plenty of growls.
The album is out this Friday via eOne, but you can listen to the whole thing below. While you’re at it, read our full interview with Erik about death, life, and the lessons he’s learned from his world travel.
Kerrang!: So when you set out to make this record, you first wanted to make a record about life. But ultimately the record ended up being about death. How did the concept change?
Erik Olson: We wanted to make this really grandiose album, and sort of try to put everything we’ve learned into it – conceptually, lyrically, and musically. And during the writing process, we both dealt with a lot of personal stuff. Chris’s sister passed away unexpectedly, and both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer – we almost lost my mom. That helped change the way we were seeing it, and it took it in a different direction, which was really a cathartic process for us. I hope that what people get out of it is a more positive thing than a negative thing, because that’s what it was for us – even though we were expressing death moreso than life. Hopefully people see some hope in it.
Do you feel like exploring how you feel about death gives you a more positive perspective on life?
That’s something I’ve found interesting from traveling. I like to learn about the way different cultures honor their dead. I’ve been to quite a few cemeteries in Latin America and they’re very colorful. It’s more of a celebration of life than anything. And I went to a cemetery in Najaf, Iraq, the largest cemetery in the world – like 50 square kilometers, it’s insane – and it’s pretty similar. There’s just photos, flowers, paintings, and pictures. It was a celebration of life.
It’s all really a cycle. Life will keep going. It starts over again. It’s important to remember.
What kinds of lessons do you feel like you learned in life, or how you conduct yourself in life, from having such a tragic few years?
Well, I guess I’d say that we only have this one life, so make sure that you live it the best you can, and that you’re close to those you really care about, too. It’s pretty easy to disconnect, so it’s good to share what time you have with your loved ones the best that you can.
What was it like processing the death of your bandmate’s sister? Especially someone like Chris, whom you’ve been playing music with for decades?
It was difficult. That was his younger sister. I’ve known her for over 20 years as well. It was so unexpected, it was hard to process it. We still don’t know exactly what happened or why. She was very healthy. She was 30 years old when she died. There was something wrong with her heart, but no one knew about it — it was an unexpected tragedy. There’s a lot of questions, you know? How do I process this? It was hard to deal with. It happened several years ago, but it’s still very much on the minds of Chris and his whole family.
How do you find that the writing of riffs and lyrics helps you process grief?
I think that music is an extension of yourself. And for me, it’s the creative outlet. It’s the way to express yourself. That’s something I think I realized while doing this record, too. So much emotion goes into it. Maybe the bands we started 20 years ago were punk bands because we were pissed-off teenagers, and had a lot of teenage angst. And maybe the music you play matures as you mature as well. I think it’s a great tool to express yourself, and also to process life.
So you have been traveling all over the world for a few years now — you’ve been to 101 countries so far. Tell me a little about how that got started.
I’ve always loved traveling, ever since I got a driver’s license. Well, I traveled before that, but then I could travel on my own terms. I just started doing lots of road trips whenever I could. Going to see shows, too. Chris and I used to live in Salt Lake City and we would drive to Portland a lot. We saw the Champs and Trans Am here at least three or four times – we did a road trip for Elliott Smith, too.
I think I like the experience of going somewhere where I’m not from. And now I know I also like to travel into the unknown. Maybe that’s basically what it was then, too. I think since then I’ve changed my travel style a bit, but I definitely like to travel now outside of my comfort zone. I think it’s a good way to experience the world.
Above: The fridge magnets Erik has collected from his travels.
What’s the scariest or most uncomfortable thing you’ve seen while traveling?
Definitely when I was in Kabul. That was probably the scariest place I’ve been. It wasn’t really initially in my plan, either – I had my visas and everything, so I was definitely planning on going to Aghganistan. But I was supposed to go to Herat for a few days, and I had a layover in Kabul, and my flight was cancelled to Herat. So I was basically stuck there. But luckily I had a good contact who had family in Kabul, so they helped me out. They picked me up and took me to a guest house. They actually took me around the city, too! They had me write a list of all of the places I was interested in seeing, and then they would cross off the places they felt wouldn’t be safe to visit. The Taliban is a big problem there. But, of all of the places I wanted to go to, there’s a landmine museum there. A museum about landmines. But it was closed while I was there, due to an explosion. Not because of all of the stuff in the museum, but because the Taliban attacked the museum. I thought that was incredibly ironic.
Also, while I was in the airport, a suicide bombing happened. There were two fatalities from it. So I brought it up to the people I was with, and they were like, ‘Oh, we don’t even pay attention. Unless it’s a really catastrophic event, it’s not something we want to worry about. Otherwise you’ll just spend all of your time worrying.’ I was like, ‘Wow, okay.’
That really puts things in perspective.
Absolutely. And you know what? Even though I hadn’t planned to go, it was really cool. I met some really nice, hospitable people. They took me around to some really interesting stuff and I’m happy I went there.
Have you personally ever had any brushes with death?
I have. I almost died while I was in Pakistan, actually. I was really lucky that I have a friend there who’s a tour guide – he usually does group tours, but he was just doing a private thing for me. We were doing this hike in the Karakorum mountains to a place called Fairy Meadows, and a rock slide happened on the trail we were on, on a cliff. The cliff was falling apart. [My friend] grabbed me and helped me hang onto the wall. I thought I was going to die! I started hyperventilating. He was like, ‘These rock slides happen all the time!’ I was like, ‘Well, let’s get out of here, then!’ Obviously I got off of there, but it was really scary.
What kinds of things were going through your mind when you thought you were going to die?
To be honest, I was really just trying to catch my breath, because I was hyperventilating. I was like, ‘How can I get to somewhere safe?’ It took awhile – we were essentially clinging to rocks that were jutting out of the side of the canyon until I got over to a place we could actually stand on. He was like, ‘Just look forward. Don’t look down. I’m going to tell you where to put your foot.’ I was like, ‘I didn’t come here to die on a hike!’
That’s really the only time while traveling that anywhere close to dying has happened. I’m a lot more cautious now, too, about what I choose to take part in. If it looks a little sketchy, it probably is sketchy. But I see it differently than probably most Americans would as far what they would consider safety concerns. I’m more concerned with things happening in nature than political or terrorist organizations, or whatever.
For the most part, the news only likes to talk about bad things that happen. But people are inherently good. There’s so much negativity about the Middle East, and that’s one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve been to every country there except for Syria. And everybody I’ve met has been good. No one likes extremists. They’re the ones who have to worry about it more than anyone. I’ve found, in my travels, that the kindest and most hospitable people are always from the countries that are either war-torn or economically underdeveloped. So I think that says something about humanity, too.
What do you think happens when you die?
Well, I think it’s whatever you want to make of it. I think that’s what’s guided human civilization, anyway. That’s been a question that humans have asked forever – they’ve always tried to ask where they came from. Whether it was one god, or many gods – who their creator was. If you want my personal opinion, I’ve been kind of losing myself in this idea of simulation theory. But I don’t think there’s any way to know. The only way is to die.
Which is why, big story short: Life your life to the fullest.
Mysterium Tremendum is out Friday April 26 via eOne, but you can preorder it now.
See Lord Dying on tour with Year Of The Cobra:
08 - Substation - Seattle, WA
09 - The Pin - Spokane, WA
10 - Old School Records - Kalispell, MT
13 - Urban Lounge - Salt Lake City, UT
14 - Den Of Sin - Sacramento, CA
15 - Lexington - Los Angeles, CA
16 - Club Red - Mesa, AZ
17 - Backstage Bar - Las Vegas, NV
18 - Taos Mesa Brewery - El Prado, NM
19 - Streets - Denver, CO
21 - Gas Monkey Bar - Dallas, TX
22 - The Lost Well - Austin, TX
23 - Rudyards - Houston, TX
24 - Freetown Boom Boom - Lafayette, LA
26 - Southport Hall - New Orleans, LA
27 - 529 - Atlanta, GA
28 - Cafe 611 - Frederick, MD
29 - Saint Vitus - Brooklyn, NY
30 - The Pinch - Washington, DC
31 - Hobart Art Theatre - Hobart, IN
01 - Bigs Live - Sioux Falls, SD
02 - Park Theatre - Winnipeg, MB
03 - The Exchange - Regina, SK
04 - Temple - Edmonton, AB
05 - Dickens - Calgary, AB
07 - SBC - Vancouver, BC
08 - High Water Mark - Portland, OR
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