Lord Dying Credit: Courtesy Earsplit PR

This Portland-based progressive sludge-metal band returned from a lull last year with two new members, bassist-vocalist Alyssa Maucere (formerly of Eight Bells) and drummer Kevin Swartz (of Bottom and Forgotten Gods), and their third full-length, Mysterium Tremendum (eOne). It’s beautiful, but it’s a concept album about death—which makes it either the best thing or the worst thing to listen to while staring down the barrel of a pandemic. The band’s cofounders, guitarist-vocalist Erik Olsen and guitarist Chris Evans (not the Captain America guy), have both faced sorrow and tragedy in recent years—Evans’s sister suddenly passed away, and both of Olsen’s parents were diagnosed with cancer—and they channeled their grief into music. Lord Dying’s previous two albums may have felt heavier in a musical sense, but Mysterium Tremendum (which translates to “terrible mystery”) is heavier psychologically: the band use a diverse array of techniques from the prog-metal toolbox to meditate on death, spirituality, and the afterlife. The result is not just awe-inspiring but also surprisingly tender and kind. Olsen relies mostly on clean vocals, and on thoughtful tracks such as “The End of Experience” he sounds vulnerable and plaintive in the face of the inevitable—emotions that are cushioned by the ghostly instrumental buildup of the following track, “Exploring Inward.” That song winds up in shreking defiance, but the high, clear melodic notes of the ballad “Even the Darkness Went Away” strike a tone of elegiac acceptance. Maucere uses her striking singing to great effect, and its presence is evidence of Lord Dying’s willingness to shake up their already powerful sound in order to explore a greater emotional range. Though death is a staple subject in metal lyrics, it’s rarely explored with as much grace and depth.   v