Saturday, March 27, 2021

LOVE AND DEATH "Perfectly Preserved"


(c) 2021 Headdog Music/Blind Tiger Entertainment

  1. Infamy
  2. Tragedy
  3. Down
  4. Let Me Love You (feat. Lacey Sturm)
  5. Death Of Us
  6. Slow Fire
  7. The Hunter
  8. Lo Lamento
  9. Affliction
  10. White Flag
Brian "Head" Welch--Vocals, Guitars
J.R. Bareis--Guitars, Vocals
Jasen Rauch--Bass, Vocals
Isaiah Perez--Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians
Lacey Sturm--Co-lead Vocals on "Let Me Love You"
Keith Wallen--additional guitars on "The Hunter"
Ryan Hayes--Vocal bridge on "White Flag"

It had been eight full years since the release of Love And Death's first album, Between Here And Lost, a full five years since we had heard even a new song from Korn guitarist, Brian "Head" Welch's "side" project, and more than a decade since Welch released his initial Christian project, Save Me From Myself.  Indeed, 2016's "Lo Lamento", which is also included here, was believed by many fans to be the swan song of what looked to be a promising band, as there hadn't even been rumors or rumblings coming from the L&D camp in years, thanks in large part to Head returning to his "day job" as the guitar player for Korn.  

And then the world went sideways...

Whether of not Covid had anything to do with the resurrection of Love And Death, I am not certain, but it would seem to be EXTREMELY coincidental that Love And Death suddenly seemed to be a machine on the move once touring was cancelled across the country/world, and bands started recording new material as an outlet and a way to generate some income.  Regardless of the reason, with a new rhythm section in place, Head and J.R. Bareis have returned with Perfectly Preserved, a brand new, full-length album from Love And Death.  

The temptation here is to refer to Love And Death as something of a supergroup now, as all of the members have a background with other significant acts.  The obvious here is Head who, whether you like Korn or not, has to be considered one of the more influential guitar players of the past few decades as that band was at the forefront of the down-tuned Nu-Metal movement.  Bareis was a relative unknown on the first Love And Death album, but he has gone on to work with notable the Christian hard rock/modern metal group, Spoken.  As to the newcomers, Rauch is not only a well-respected producer, but he is also the guitar player for Breaking Benjamin and was a member of Red on two of that band's albums, as well.  And while Phineas may not be a household name to many people, Perez's drum work for that metalcore band, as well as his time spent in Righteous Vendetta, is well-known in modern metal circles.  Even the guest musicians lend a "supergroup" mentality to Perfectly Preserved, as metal siren Lacey Sturm, formerly of Flyleaf, joins the band for a song, as does Rauch's Breaking Benjamin bandmate, Keith Wallen, on guest guitars, and Righteous Vendetta's Ryan Hayes on vocals, as well.  Through all of this "star power" however, a cohesive sound still emerges on Perfectly Preserved, with a natural growth from the previous record both evident and understandable.  Yes, Perfectly Preserved still sounds like Love And Death, but this is a more mature Love And Death musically, a more accessible Love And Death, for the most part.  This album still rocks plenty hard, and even dips its hand in the Nu Metal pool from time to time, but there are definitely some changes on Perfectly Preserved that let you know this isn't simply a retread of the first album.

The album starts with an oddity of a track, as the moody intro song "Infamy" features far more piano than anything else, and I have to admit to being a bit thrown as I had heard the lead single "Down" already, and it had NOTHING to do with this type of music. Dark and melodic, "Infamy" clocks in at less than two minutes, however, and features the album's title in its lyrics, and while it isn't a precursor of things to come musically, it certainly carries the angst of much of the rest of the track, especially when Head's roaring vocals can be heard beneath the much smoother vocals of Bareis, who does a good share of the vocal work on this record.

Once "Tragedy" roars to life, the oddity of "Infamy" is quickly forgotten and the listener is just as quickly reacquainted with the old friend that is Head's snarling voice and down-tuned guitar style.  It is immediately obvious, however, that something is subtly different this time around, however, as there is a melodic sensibility to this track that never really appeared on Between Here And Lost.  Indeed, the chorus is far more sing-along here than at any point on the last album, a point of emphasis in more than one place on Perfectly Preserved.  It is the interplay between the heavy aggression of the riffs and verse sections and the more melodic moments during the chorus that we find the growth of this band, both as performers and songwriters, a growth which will recur throughout the record.    

Most people into this style of music have likely heard the lead single, "Down" by now, and it is a really good representation of what to expect from Perfectly Preserved.  Haunting clean vocals intro the song with its chorus, before the down-tuned, buzzsaw of guitars roars to life accompanied by the heavy drumming style that Perez brings to the project.  Head handles the lead vocals here, both the clean, more melodic lines and those that sound like a wounded animal yowling in pain, and he does an excellent job.  It is clear why this song was chosen as the lead single, and it has been hanging around the top of the Christian Hard Rock and metal charts for a couple of months now, pushing its way toward number one on a couple of them.  Honestly, the fact that secular outlets (ahem, Octane) have ignored this track is exceedingly frustrating, not only because of the star-quality of the band, but also because there is nothing "religious" or overtly "Christian" about this song.       

I've heard a lot of complaints about the cover of Justin Bieber's "Let Me Love You", and honestly, for the life of me, I don't understand it.  Sure, it comes out of left field a bit, but did you honestly expect L&D to cover "Whip It" on the last record?  Bizarre is what Head does!  Frankly, I think the vocal pairing here between J.R. Bareis and scream-queen, Lacey Sturm, is spot-on, and with Head ruminating angrily in the background with his snarls and growls, I love how the song works, overall.  Bareis has an excellent melodic vocal style...the guy is a really good singer...and Sturm uses both her breathy, clean vocals and her out-of-her-mind-with-rage vocals, both to excellent effect.  The guitar tone is excellent, the drums are still aggressive and punchy, and Rauch's bass is utilized to great effect, so I'm honestly not really sure what the problem is here.  This is a song that is perfectly positioned to crossover a bit, and I highly anticipate this track hitting radio this summer, with it being the kind of song that even Octane might jump all over, further exposing Love And Death to a bigger audience.

"Lo Lamento" is a re-recording of the track from five years ago, and it is in superior form here (although I really like both versions).  Fans of modern heavy rock are going to find themselves drooling all over the riffing, and the various vocal styles utilized throughout the track give this song a truly distinct style.  "The Hunter" is filled with chunky, crunchy goodness from the guitars while also utilizing some very clean, truly sung vocals on the verses, while Head interjects an uber-catchy "and they told another lie, and they told another lie..." into the mix on the first verse that just churns through my brain for hours after hearing it.  

The last two songs on the album seem to form a bridge between the Love And Death world and the Korn world for Head, as far as musical styles go.  While the vast majority of the album is more modern radio rock, these last two songs take on definite Nu Metal tendencies that will likely have Korn fans begging for more.  "Affliction" utilizes some interesting guitar tones to intro the track that is probably the closest to a Korn song on the entire album, especially the way Head handles the pre-chorus in very Jonathan Davis-style.  The interplay between Head and Bareis on the chorus sections is excellent, and there is a bestially-roared vocal bridge that is simply inhuman, coming momentarily close to death metal in its approach.  Obviously a song that is important and special to Head, "Affliction" is all about addiction and recovery, which so much of the album covers, to be fair.   

On "White Flag", the majority of the song is very much in line with the rest of the record style-wise, especially on the clean chorus sections and the haunting atmospheric tones used in the background throughout the song.  But then there is a bridge section where the vocals turn exceptionally harsh, the tempo kicks things up a couple of notches, and we are back in full-on Nu Metal territory for several moments.  Ryan Hayes, from Righteous Vendetta, absolutely tears into the vocals here, creating an even more aggressive vocal approach than even Head's most angry snarls.  Easily the "heaviest" track here (what does "heavy" even mean to people now?), "White Flag" is perfectly placed at the end of the album, not because it is a bad song...not at all...but because it is so starkly different for those crushingly heavy moments, that it doesn't disrupt the flow of the overall album.

Overall, Perfectly Preserved is an excellent return for a band that many had considered dead and gone.  While the music may be a bit more modern hard rock than Nu Metal, there is still plenty for both Korn and older Love And Death fans to sink their teeth into, while also allowing for newer fans to access the band and jump on board, perhaps discovering the older material along the way.  If pressed, I think I would actually say I prefer the songwriting and overall performances on Perfectly Preserved, even if I would be lying if I said I didn't miss the intensity of "Chemicals" or "I W8 4 U" from Between Here And Lost.

Rating:  Extremely crankable!  Rip the knob up to 9 and let's hope that the world rights itself enough for us to perhaps get the chance to see Love And Death on the road at some point in 2021.

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