Album Reviews

The Lord † Petra Haden: Devotional

The American vocalist and Sunn O))) co-founder combine for the collaboration of the year.

The best art leaves an indelible mark. A thunderstruck impression. It stops you dead in your tracks. That’s why we keep going back or, indeed, continue to scour the creative frontiers for something that can potentially reach these levels of satisfaction.

It’s a balancing act, of course. Particularly writing about such things. Is said album a masterpiece? Is it really? To you perhaps it is, but from an objective viewpoint, does it stack up? Does it even matter, because, well… the very term is construed to be a massive overreach and even an overused one these days?

Defining things as such is as much about the feeling than anything else. Technical proficiency and thematic landscape most certainly come into it, but both aspects can have mixed results on a listener. It’s all about the soundwaves. The vibe. If it hits, then it hits, and if that equates to being a masterpiece, well… we can each be the judge accordingly.

These are the kind of questions that have been swimming around in my head having spent the last month with Devotional. Following his debut full-length release as The Lord in Forest Nocturne, Greg Anderson returns with his second LP in 2022, this time teaming up with the vocal spectre otherwise known as Petra Haden.

Whether it be through his endeavours with amplifier worshippers, Sunn O))), or something with Goatsnake or Engine Kid, Anderson is never far away from the new music landscape.

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And this time he returns alongside Haden, who herself is no stranger to collaboration, working with Anderson during Sunn O)))’s second LP, ØØ Void. Having also been a member of That Dog, Tito & Tarantula, and The Decemberists, as well as having worked with the likes of Mike Watt, The Gutter Twins, and The Twilight Singers, alongside Anderson on Devotional she has produced her finest moment yet.

On Devotional, Haden is a fearless one woman choir. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the singer’s wordless vocalisations transcending Anderson’s droning psychadelic dread that explodes through the amps.

At the back end of 2020 alongside his Sunn O))) cohorts, Anderson ushered in Anna von Hausswolff for the live recording, Metta Benevolence: BBC 6music Live on the Invitation of Mary-Anne Hobbs. It was a triumph and one of the finest live albums of the last decade. Meditative in spirit with soft colourings of tone and imagery, it was like the logical endpoint to the last five years for a band that feels as vital as ever.

However, alongside Haden on Devotional, Anderson reaches another gruelling level, with riffs that expel the kind roar which splits the storm clouds. And that’s where Haden, like searing thunderbolts, emerges.

The Lord † Petra Haden - Devotional

While the opening title track is séance-like drone that calls to the spirits, suddenly Haden’s voice arrives like a butcher’s knife slicing through the bone.

On Rise to Diminish it’s Anderson’s turn to do some cutting of his own; in this instance with riffs that could score through black ice. The kind of guitar tones that send tremors all the way down to Lucifer’s lair, subsequently making him shudder in the corner in wide-eyed fear.

And the drones become heavier on Devotional’s centre-piece, What Lies Behind Us Lies Buried Because. Through the dust, this is a journey across barren terrains. With hallucinatory rumbling noise, the track is weighed down further by of Haden’s vocals. Part angel, part vixen, she emits one of the most hypnotic performances the year.

Taking its name from Ma Anand Sheela who alongside the Rajneesh community, is said to be one of the key inspirations behind Devotional, the track begins with Haden’s gloomy operatic crests, which are truly fit for funerals. Sonically, Anderson hasn’t created something with so much emotional weight. The first two minutes thirty seconds alone unfurl the kind of sounds that melt the heart, and if this passage doesn’t bring a tear to the eye, then you’re probably dead inside. 

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The exploration into Indian classical music continues with Yama. With a raga-like drone, Haden’s hits in one fell swoop, and alongside the protracted core-shuddering drones that form the backbone of Yama, it’s as heavy as anything that, say, Earth has ever done.

The End of Absence is the soundtrack for a shesh den. Haden’s range and technique startling, and with Anderson’s ridiculous seas of volume, the pair muster up what is perhaps the finest closing track of the year. It’s one of those moments that needs to be heard to actually be believed.

And perhaps Devotional as a whole could be described as such. Haden’s performance arguably the most emotive you’ll hear in 2022, pulling the listener through orbits of dread, euphoria, and both at the same time. It’s the kind uncertainty and drama that makes Devotional what it is – a record that varies with impact every time you listen to it. The very kind that can ruin you emotionally if you go in half-hearted.

That’s the impact of all high-watermark albums, and with Haden’s captivating vocal performance and Anderson’s rolling cascades of drone, the pair combine for the kind of hypnotic heaviness that, indeed, spells an experimental masterpiece. Is Devotional really that, though? Time will tell of course, but one thing’s for certain: Haden and Anderson have captured the kind of burning energy and tonal intoxication that doesn’t come around often. The very kind that most artists wish to bottle up and preserve for an eternity.

Devotional is out via Southern Lord Recordings. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

5 replies on “The Lord † Petra Haden: Devotional”

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