One of the principal challenges bands with stellar debut records face is simply having to make another record. The magical element of surprise and general exemptions given by listeners for unmet potential due to relative youth have long been discarded, replaced instead by impossibly high expectations and the audience’s/label’s manic need for new material. Some bands, like Finland’s death metal legends Demilich, make one excellent full length record and call it a career. Good for them. Many others have opted for a more content-rich approach. While not necessarily the most consistently amazing record in a band’s discography, the sophomore album may be the most important because it gives the audience their first real taste of a band’s long term potential. For a band to thrive, it needs to do it right.
Cruciatus and Necrophilos of Finland’s death/black metal juggernaut Lantern faced this exact dilemma while preparing the follow up to their stellar debut, Below. That particular record drenched itself in some cavernous Sunlight Studios-esque production, Celtic Frost and Death worship, and loose instrumental performances that fit the aesthetic of the record like a glove. It was fresh, brash, and a wonderful throwback to an era of metal that many love unabashedly. However, Below wasn’t without its flaws. While the band incorporated a set of diverse metal styles (particularly death, thrash, and black metal elements) into their music, the record did not bring a sound all its own to the table. It is an album filled with lots of tasty parts, but no concrete individual identity.
Such criticism would be difficult to lodge against Lantern’s sophomore release, II: Morphosis, which has a sound that is distinct from that of their debut, and improves upon it in nearly every way. The band’s subgenre fusions here are subtler, baked into the music with craft and ingenuity. The songs are aggressive and varied, with each seeming to carry its own distinct flavor that melds into the overall sound of the album. The performances are tight and technically sound. The production is rich and fitting, filling in the cracks with a light atmospheric tension that does not overwhelm the instrumental performances. It is on the whole a fantastic record, a satisfying realization of Lantern’s potential, and a wonderful display of the band’s many admirable qualities.
Listing these admirable qualities mentioned above is a feat in and of itself. There is so much that goes right with this record. Starting with the production, which is a drastic departure from the hazy hell cave of Below, Lantern tapped Dan Lowndes to create a mix that, instead of feeling purposefully suffocating, allowed these instruments to be heard individually; to breathe and cohere in more intricate ways. In this, he succeeds resoundingly. The album is a pitch perfect mix of clarity and atmosphere, and sounds amazing as a technical achievement.
Musically, the most immediately noticeable characteristics of II: Morphosis are the riffs. My lord, the riffs. Stacked in sheer multitudes, uncompromisingly heavy and, somewhat surprisingly, insanely catchy. Album opener “Black Miasma” wastes no time introducing the listener to this trove of guitar-based riches, unleashing a storm of death and thrash metal riffs that blend the two styles seamlessly in a way that feels distinct to Lantern. Much like in Below, the band places a primary focus on melding several different styles of metal into a cohesive whole. Notably more so than on their debut, they succeed in this endeavor. Each song carries its own unique brand of metal intensity without feeling out of place. Some songs are particularly thrashy (“Sleeper of Hypnagog”), while others emphasize stronger elements of death metal (“Cleansing of the Air”) or black metal (“Lucid Endlessness”). Regardless of the musical emphasis within these individual tracks, each seamlessly blends into the next as the album progresses, and all sound uniquely like Lantern. This is a marvelously cohesive record which incorporates a songwriting strategy that makes each new track feel fresh, exciting, and unique. It would also be a mistake to exclude Necrophilos’ vocal delivery on II: Morphosis, which brings additional ferocity to the record. Juxtaposed against the the more languid approach employed in Below, the vocal delivery here is starkly more robust and throaty, adding a particularly vicious death metal feel to each track.
Overall, II: Morphosis is an outstanding record that stands well above its death metal contemporaries thus far in 2017. Seldom will you find a sophomore record that builds on the success of its predecessor with such dexterity and confidence. I am also thoroughly convinced that there’s something in the water over at Colorado Springs metal label Dark Descent Records. Whatever it is, it seems to be dripping with some particularly feral nastiness from Finland. This year alone releases from Devouring Star and Gorephilia have shredded ear drums, while records from Krypts, Desolate Shrine, and Swallowed have infused the metal landscape with some barbaric Finnish death metal goodness over the past half-decade. In the mountains of Colorado, Finnish metal has a filthy portal to the world. Add Lantern’s II: Morphosis to the label’s fast growing list of incredible Finnish metal releases.
II: Morphosis is available now via Dark Descent Records and can be purchased here.