The Last Reign are a melodic death metal band from the Buffalo, NY area, hearkening back to the sounds of the original Gothenburg, Sweden scene of the ‘90s – a group of bands who collectively pioneered the genre (At the Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, Soilwork). Since their inception in the spring of 2015, the band have released their Devastation demo (2015), their debut LP, Expulsion from Paradise (2016), their Prelude EP (2019), It’s Dangerous to Go Alone (2020) – a collection of chiptune covers of already released TLR songs, their sophomore LP, Evolution (2020) – an epic hour of melodic death metal gems with a modern metal edge, Just Too Darn Loud (2021) – a collection of popular ‘80s covers reimagined in the MDM style, “Good 4 U” (2022) – an Olivia Rodrigo cover, and finally, Endangered Pieces Volume One – something of an anthology piecing together many of the aforementioned musical efforts, a few new cover songs, and one new original song called, “Sands of Fate”.
We’ll be touching on all of this material in this brand-new “IN FOCUS” segment of WRETCHED SOUND, and to start off the process, allow us to revisit our initial review of TLR’s sophomore album, Evolution, originally published on wretched-sound.com in January of 2021.
ALBUM REVIEW: THE LAST REIGN – EVOLUTION (2020)
Originally written on January 23, 2021*
Taken from wretched-sound.com*
The roots of melodic death metal can perhaps best be described as a blending of classic death metal (Death, Possessed), and melodic heavy metal (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest). Since the early ’90s, the genre has been rehashed and revisited again and again by a slew of bands seeking to emulate the likes of At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and In Flames – genre innovators who gave the genre its initial spike of popularity in Gothenburg, Sweden. However, while many bands have taken it upon themselves to either reinforce or reinvent this style over the past 25 years or so, very few have managed to escape the “cookie cutter” stigma melodic death metal bands inevitably face without completely departing from the genre’s foundations. Such can be said for all genres of music I suppose. It all comes down to the single band that initially turns a listener on to a genre of music – that one band that turns the tide. From that moment on, the listener will compare all others of the genre to that “gateway band”.
When it comes to the music of The Last Reign, two things is for certain:
They understand melodic death metal in all the many forms it has taken on since its conception.
After this sophomore release, The Last Reign are just as capable of creating new melodic death metal fans, as the genre’s innovators. If Evolution were a would-be melodic death fan’s first melodic death album, they wouldn’t leave disappointed.
Incorporating most of melodic death metal’s spirited eras, The Last Reign marches forward with their sophomore album, Evolution. This 55-minute epic manifests as a true testament to the genre’s roots, while showcasing a unique blending of classic and modern era MDM, along with the TLR signature twist just the same. The album’s introduction, “Genesis”, clues the listener in to the massive statement about to be made. Utilizing some dark-natured synth programming to kick things off, TLR prepares to take no prisoners with the opening riff on the first full song, track 2, “Evolution of a Decaying Race”. Toggling back and forth between nasty, evil tremolo riffing, and thick, chunky grooves, TLR manages to successfully intertwine classic death metal, classic melodic death, and modern melodic death in a single stride.
Considering how many albums are in circulation in this same vein, something essential for differentiation I’ve noticed with Evolution is the track order. When listening, each song sounds off bolder than the last, in that the band is taking greater steps toward incorporating more and more stylistic ideas as the album progresses. There is a comfort level that is established, stripped away, and then reestablished as the album proceeds from start to finish. It’s also no secret that all aspects of TLR’s sound have improved tenfold since the band’s debut record in 2016, Expulsion from Paradise.
Vocally, this sophomore album sits well “in the pocket” of the melodic death metal genre, hearkening back to MDM’s Gothenburg heydays, while musically, things have definitely kicked up a notch in terms of intricacies. Specifically, the outro of track 5, “The Hourglass”, showcases an expertly layered drumming passage combining classic metal and tribal elements. The same can be said for the intro of track 10, “Devoid”. Both parts are extremely noteworthy and unique for this band, given the guitar and drum dynamics therein. Altogether, Evolution is just a very interesting listen when dissecting these songs. From the guitar writing perspective, the forefathers of MDM couldn’t be prouder. Yet at the same time, there is something to be said for the ‘evolution’ of TLR’s riffs, melodies, and solos. Note for note, despite Evolution’s guitar work being more complex than on its predecessor, there is an apparent conscious decision to always do what is best for the song. This isn’t to say that the album lacks shred. Rather, the solos across this album (and there are plenty) strive to incorporate equal levels of catchiness and flash. When it comes to melodic death metal, “shred” and “flash” almost feel out of place anyway. More than anything, melodic death metal is about getting a catchy vocal pattern and a catchy guitar melody stuck in your head on repeat for days. Thankfully, Evolution is littered with these moments. Aside from the shorter instrumental tracks (“Fallen Dark”, “Luminosity”), there isn’t a single melody nor chorus that isn’t worthy of attention. I’ll also just quickly mention a very cool use of harmonics embedded within the bridge (I believe) of the closing track, “Architects of Genocide”. Guitar and drum nerds who love melodic death metal will find all kinds of fun Easter eggs sprinkled across these 55 minutes of aggressive, European metal worship.
Melodic death fans of new and old, assemble. A true representation of everything you love about the genre dropped in to say hello in September 2020.
Evolution was independently released on September 18, 2020.
To offer a brief breakdown of what Endangered Pieces Volume One (2022) is all about, The Last Reign appear to be ushering in a new era for themselves, closing out one chapter of the band in favor of a familiar melodic death metal sound now coupled with TLR’s new, refreshed compositional signatures (more on this to come in our review of the new original single, “Sands of Fate”). Endangered Pieces Volume One (2022) is a consolidation effort where one can find TLR’s new, original single, “Sands of Fate”, their cover of “Good 4 U” (Olivia Rodrigo), their cover of “Ravenous” (Arch Enemy), the entire Just Too Darn Loud (2021) EP featuring melodic death metal versions of songs by Journey, Moving Pictures, Wham!, The Icicle Works, and Huey Lewis and the News, and finally, the entire It’s Dangerous to Go Alone video game-themed, chiptune cover EP, featuring other artists’ covers of TLR songs from TLR’s debut album, Expulsion from Paradise (2016), in addition to the title track, “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone”, a video game medley topped with harsh vocals.
Chronicling 6 years of releases on this one release, TLR are now ready to charge forward into 2023 with a rejuvenated sound, and a fully energized arsenal of tricks.
Physical copies of Endangered Pieces Volume One can be preordered at thelastreign.bandcamp.com.
*Album credits taken from the TLR Bandcamp page:
The Endangered Pieces Volume One album is a collection of our last three EPs including It’s Dangerous to go Alone (2019), Just Too Darn Loud (2021) and Sands of Fate (2022). The latter is a collaboration with vocalist, Jesse Isadore (DESIGN THE VOID). The idea was to release one new original song which will also appear on his debut solo album under the moniker ‘Isadore’ and have each of us choose one cover song. He chose “Good 4 U” by OLIVIA RODRIGO and our pick was “Ravenous” by ARCH ENEMY. Endangered Pieces will also be the first time these EPs are available on physical media.
*releases February 10, 2023
Tracks 1 -3
Brian Platter – Guitars
Lauren Wishnie – Vocals
Joe Maggio – Bass
Ryan Hare – Session Drums
Jesse Isadore – Guest Vocals
Tracks 4 – 9
Brian Platter – Guitars
Joe Maggio – Bass
Adam Svensson – Vocals
Vince Mayer – Drums
Arcade Version Composed by HangOnGetReady
Arcade Version Composed by Axion
Arcade Version Composed by Bryan Szymecki
Arcade Version Composed by Bryan Szymecki
“Sands of Fate” is TLR’s first new, original release since the fall of 2020. The track features guest vocalist, Jesse Isadore, and will also appear on Jesse’s forthcoming solo record, ISADORE. TLR’s new vocalist, Lauren Wishnie, also makes her studio debut (in order of release) with TLR on this song.
Musically, the song is a slight departure from TLR’s usual, attacking the listener with snarling riffs in the lower register, sinister guitar melodies and overlays, stacked vocals, blasting drums, thick bass, and a diverse array of modern melodic death metal and modern metalcore sounds. The latter is most audible in Jesse Isadore’s lower, deathcore style vocals somehow blending seamlessly with Lauren’s higher and mid ranged harsh vocals, and the European melodic death metal influence always present in the guitars. “Sands of Fate” is a “busy” tune, but after a few listens, it’s a very entertaining song for one to digest.
The opening riff is a driving, alternate picked, single note melody, akin to textbook melodic death metal masters, Soilwork (The Chainheart Machine era), layered with a classic guitar harmony, and finally speeding into a tremolo version of the same riff. From there, we head into the verse, and it’s a no holds barred slug fest.
The verse riff is choppy, the third harmonies used on guitar are demonic sounding, Jesse’s vocals are reverb-laden and also in the higher, shrill register, giving him a black metal presence at times!
Then, before you know it, we’re soaring high with that inevitable chorus melody!
The chorus of “Sands of Fate” is classic MDM at its finest. The main guitar melody, harmonies, and driving chord progression underneath, are all stellar parts forming a wonderful polyphony. This gives the listener feelings of triumph while also keeping things heavy and moving. This section is also followed up twice by a cool post chorus I wasn’t expecting. The section carries some very interesting, extended phrasing on some “involved” quick note passages.
The bridge gets dark and dirty, and the subsequent guitar solo is a huge anthem all on its own – a true song within a song. Get your fist pumps in while you can. There is also a juicy breakdown/outro that closes “Sands of Fate” out with LOTS of extra meat on that bone! The vocals are stacked to the ceiling here, the guitar tone is nasty, chugging along with some tight double kicks – a true punch in the face to usher in TLR’s next wave of material.
With stuff like this now in the TLR wheelhouse, we’re stoked on the band’s forthcoming 3rd LP, hopefully to be announced soon.
Check out all this material and more at thelastreign.bandcamp.com !!