I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert on show business, heavy metal or otherwise, at any level, especially whatever level it is that somehow marks the transition from ordinary to significant. But (and I don’t mean to overstate my sociocultural acumen here), I have seen This Is Spinal Tap more times than I can count, Mulholland Drive almost as many, and Inside Llewyn Davis twice, and I did recently very much enjoy the first two seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, so I think I can say a thing or two about the importance of decision-making in “The Biz,” whether it’s music or acting or comedy or pro bono hackery for a heavy metal review site. Obviously, inevitably, decisions will be made in pursuit of the payoff performance. Most decisions will be relatively inconsequential and plenty will be bad, but also some will be good. And, it turns out, those good decisions that happen to follow the worst ones often end up being the most important, probably because of how elegantly a regrettable outcome tends to inform the selection of a better choice next time around. Having somebody to guide those decisions can be critical in capitalizing on good fortune or making the most of a mistake. Argentinian power metal band Lord Divine has made some bad decisions in their time. And, as of late, they or somebody working on their behalf has been making some very good ones.
The first thing to notice about Facing Chaos is that everything feels much bigger this time around, stronger. The production choices have made for a robust and potent sound, for sure, but it’s obvious from the start that it’s about more than just sounding bigger because the album begins with an overture. Of course, calling your overture “Overture (Dies Irae)” is something like the opposite of original. Nor is the inclusion of an overture particularly creative. But it is new for Lord Divine. What’s more, it is a declaration of bigness and expansion, of outward growth of strength within, which reflects a coherent plan and purpose and, in this case, a statement of intent.
The second thing is that their basic sound and style are still there – you know it’s this band if you’ve heard this band before – it’s just bigger. As familiar as it is, it’s fresh because those production decisions that expand the sound also enliven the riffs and vitalize the keys, reflecting a level of quality in musical play that hadn’t previously been achieved which, in turn, grants access to territory that had been outside the band’s dynamic bounds. At the same time, Facing Chaos marks the transition from straight power metal formula to a more progressive approach, including shifting time and tempo, braver songwriting less constrained by method, and a nearly 12-minute closing track (which many prog nerds would argue meets the criteria for “epic track” categorization, while the more discerning prog nerd would argue that the designation depends more on content and that the song in question, “The Rage On Me,” is indeed an epic, just not because of its length).
There is a ton of gigantic, triumphant orchestration on Facing Chaos that celebrates Symphony X and loads of amazing riffwork from both guitars and keyboards that revels in the distinctive light of Michael Romeo. There’s also much of each, accent and riffcraft, that draws from the same creative pools as the awesome Angra, with whom Lord Divine has toured, as well as the lesser-known but no-fucking-way-less-awesome Kiuas, of Finland. There are flashes of Awake-era Dream Theater riffs and atmosphere and in Valdez’s melody. It’s important to note that no single one of these influences is particularly obvious for more than a riff or two, a measure or so, at a time, so that none ever dominates a song. Rather it’s done judiciously where each seems to really support the idea the band had for that song. Whether that defines a new Lord Divine or merely another step in their evolution remains to be seen. Regardless, it was a brave decision for this band to break from familiar ground, and it was a very wise decision to follow markers laid out by bands that have gone that way well before them.
It’s unclear at this point whether all of this positive change was instrumental or consequential to what may have been the most important decision the band has ever made: the decision to add Diego Valdez on vocals. Regardless of the order of events, his addition meant all of those other changes had to be made in order to accommodate and make the most of what Valdez brings to the band. Lord Divine’s previous vocalists had been good, even very good at times. But, as any seasoned power metal fan will tell you, a great vocalist is necessary to the greatness of the band; not sufficient, but necessary. And Diego Valdez is a great vocalist. His most immediately noticeable feature is that he can sound almost identical to the mighty Ronnie James Dio. His most notable strength is that he absolutely does not rely on that remarkable talent. In fact, he employs a wide range of vocal skills within an impressively wide vocal range, a combination that effectively demands more from the music around him.
One of the ways Lord Divine chose to capitalize on Valdez’s presence was to bring in Manu Lopez on guitar. Now, this second guitar spot has been rotated a few times but Lopez’s addition seems to have been an ideal choice for this turn, because his interplay with co-founder and mainstay lead-guitarist Hugo Galli is pure fireworks and does much to undergird the synergy between all members of the band’s current incarnation. Besides powerful and compelling riffs, the pair bring loads of sweet harmonic leads and energetic solos, together with and in support of Valdez and lots and lots of keys. The keyboards are manned, as they have been from the start, by Diego Palma, but he’s redefined his role, as well, expanding with Valdez and those guitars, pushing his sound up front and filling more space and time, making the most of both with a more adventurous approach that makes the keys themselves and the band’s larger sound feel stronger and more important.
The short answer, then, and thus the only one that matters, to the question of whether Lord Divine were able to follow up their poorest decisions with a great one is “yes.” More accurately, they or someone on their behalf made several very good decisions, resulting in a bigger, stronger, more accomplished version of what they had been before that ill-fated choice to wander on album number three. And they (or someone on their behalf) made one immeasurably great decision to invite and retain the wonderful talent of Diego Valdez. This is a band that had lost focus in reaching outside their strengths for something that might make them bigger and ended up with a tiny Stonehenge. This is also a band able to find that focus again by reclaiming and then building on their strengths. Lord Divine is going to do very well in South America this year on the success of Facing Chaos. Let’s hope Fighter Records (Xtreem Music) can get put together a few of those great-type decisions that’ll give their band the chance to wow folks up here in North America, too.