Orthodox - Gran Poder (Alone Records CD)
The Alone Records (not be confused with the hardcore label of the same name) website says that this Spanish new-blood doom-metal band Orthodox are beginning to experiment with instrumentation that demonstrates their Morricone, Coltrane and Ligeti influences. On Julian Cope's Head Heritage website - which gave this record album of the month honors - he references Speed, Glue & Shinki, Flower Travellin' Band and Link Wray. Quite the melting pot we've got then. And that's about what it takes to be noticed these days, with doom metal and all its variants ruling supreme like never before. It seems like everybody's all aboard the doom bandwagon now. Rest assured though, Orthodox pass the doom metal test with flying colors. Not because of their originality so much, but just because they do everything so well and in a unique enough way that it doesn't irritate. On the contrary, it's a welcome change from all those sludge/doom Isis clones that come around every other week. Orthodox do have sludgy moments, as often as they have doom-y moments and drone-y moments and stoner-y moments. The fact that this band is (or appears to be?) a three-piece allows them to switch easily from style to style, whether it's drone a la Sunn O))) from the two axemen or gunz-a-blazin' stoner ala High on Fire with all three going at once. And indeed they cover a whole bunch of styles across the hour of music present on this disc.
The first track "Geryon's Throne" immediately recall's Sleep's classic "Jerusalem" album, with a hazy, repeated guitar riff and heavy, pounding drums. It takes longer to unfold than "Jerusalem" though, content to bang on the same notes over and over again until it becomes some kind of wordless mantra. Orthodox seem to have put everything into overdrive though, trying desperately to beat the skins a billion times harder than Sleep did, and for all intents and purposes it works. This is heavy, heavy stuff. At about the halfway mark (it's worth noting the song is almost 30 minutes long) some classic stoned tremolo-swathed vocals come soaring in, reminiscent of the almighty Electric Wizard or Burning Witch. There's a rumbling, drone-y breakdown before the band picks up the pieces and comes back full-force for the closing few minutes, a mega psychedelic-tinged freakout not unlike Acid Mothers Temple at their Electric Heaviest.
The 12-minute "Arrodillate Ante la Madera y la Piedra" plays next and it initially brings a stripped-down Earth to mind, waiting until each riff has (almost) run its course before starting up anew. The guitar's joined by a crazed drum workout, like Dave Lombardo with a hint of those free jazz influences the label was trumpeting earlier. Then the vocals join up and the whole thing becomes a slow-burning fist-pumping affair, with drum-pounding and cymbal-crashing every few seconds. If you like Boris' stoner metal leanings ("Pink" in particular), I don't see why this wouldn't be right up your alley.
There's a brief ivory-smashing interlude in "Oficio de Tinieblas" and then it's onto the album's closing epic "El Lamento del Cabron" (hey doesn't that mean "Motherfucker's Lament"?). The track begins with desolate cymbal crashes intended to cut bone. Eventually (as with all things on this album, everything takes its time) guitars and drums move in and I'm again reminded of "Jerusalem", but not in the rip-off sense if you can dig it. The piece picks up steam and moves into psych-metal blast-off turf, Electric Wizard covering Les Rallizes Denudes style. It's a motherfucker. The last six or seven minutes of the song (and the album) are devoted to mind-clearing drones with a final batch of drumkit destruction to finish you off.
It's easy for a lazy reviewer like myself to get off easy by name-checking Orthodox's more obvious influences - at face value it's either Sleep slowed down or Corrupted sped up. But there's definitely something more going on here, something I can't put into words. Maybe it's all that religious and holy water and Spanish Inquisition shit Cope touches on his review (which I enourage you to read, he calls it the best debut record he's heard in a decade!). Regardless. Orthodox are a band who know exactly what they're doing, who know the game and all the players and how to play it. This isn't some el cheapo new wave rip-off of classic doom bands of yore (and even of present-day). It's just the sum of the best parts of them all.