Orchid released their first album, 'Capricorn', in 2011. This second album from the San Francisco quartet is their first on the Nuclear Blast label and you can hear the evolution in the songwriting.
When I received it, the description was "a 70s-doom-hard-rock vibe" and that was enough to get me lowering it on to the turntable with almost indecent haste. Well OK, it wasn't vinyl - even though I understand one is available - it was pressing buttons on the iPod, but I was getting in the spirit.
Ok, let's get the obvious comparison out of the way first. Yes, as soon as you hear the title track starting the album off it is likely that the first two words that come into your head are likely to be "Black" and "Sabbath". The sound and vibe of Iommi and co is unmistakeable. If you don't like Sabbath you're not going to like this. Now that has been acknowledged I can get on with looking at the album in its own right.
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'Mouths Of Madness' is an album which takes its influences and moves a small step forward into making something new and fresh out of them instead of sticking slavishly to a formula. It's not a radical departure, but maybe further evolution will come somewhere down the line. There is a lot to enjoy in this album in the meantime.
'Mountains Of Steel' starts out as a guitar led track, but as the track moves on a piano makes an appearance playing riffs in counterpoint to the main song, which gives a psychedelic and spacey feel. 'Loving Hand Of God' is punctuated by a wonderful deep dirty bluesy riff with sparse vocals over the top telling a bleak tale and this creates atmospheric listening. 'Wizard Of War' is the shortest track at just under four minutes long and the most direct and traditional Metal track.
'See You On The Other Side' is where it's at – it is over seven minutes long so can legitimately be described as epic. It starts with a rocking section underpinned by the solid rhythm section which sets the mood. This leads into the prog influenced mid-section with some gorgeous acoustic guitar jazzy noodling adding light and shade and getting the hips swaying.
The final section returns to the main theme, but then morphs into an outro in which it is entirely possible that baked bean cans are being played as percussion over the dark riffing. I love this track – it has an air of eccentricity but enough restraint applied to keep it sane and sound.
The production is impressive and crisp, with the songs given the space to shine and move, and there is good separation between all of the different and varied instruments. I'm sure I heard a harmonica in there somewhere. Vocals do not stray too far into the sludgy territory that doom Metal can slide into, although they are quite trebly and I would have liked to have heard a bit more power and richness.
If you like your doom stoner Metal with a twist of prog then this is the album for you. It's got everything – tolling bells, wizards, war, monster riffs, chord sequences that you can't guess first time around and great performances. It deserves its place in 2013 without having to be labelled as purely retro. It hasn't gone far into carving out a unique niche for Orchid, and there is no way that those Sabbath comparisons can be shaken off, however I can't imagine there will be many complaints over this album.
The Mouths Of Madness
Marching Dogs Of War
Mountains Of Steel
Leaving It All Behind
Loving Hand Of God
Wizard Of War
See You On The Other Side
Theo Mindell – Vocals
Mark Thomas Baker – Guitar
Keith Nickel – Bass
Carter Kennedy – Drums