Orchid – Capricorn (2011)

Orchid_Capricorn4 out of 5 Stars!

Several years ago, I had lamented the fact that I had a fierce craving to hear additional artists that “worshiped at the altar of Black Sabbath” but I didn’t quite know where to turn. Thankfully, several friends supplied me with recommendations, and among the list was a new (or newer) San Francisco band that went by the moniker of Orchid. Well, since one early Sabbath album (Master of Reality) had a short instrumental with the same name, I figured this band might be a good place to start my investigation. And man, did that logic ever pay off…in spades.

My journey of discovery began with finding a copy of Through the Devil’s Doorway, the band’s four-track EP from 2009, where Orchid not only delivered the tunes in a style replicating early Black Sabbath (I would liken the sound to albums from Paranoid through Vol. 4, prior to Sabbath becoming more experimental), but also the lead vocalist went so far as to nearly copy the vocal nuances of Ozzy Osbourne. Now, granted, I was never a huge fan of Osbourne’s, his nasally voice often rubbing me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I could tolerate him well enough and I adore many of the albums on which he appeared—I mean, Black Sabbath were the gods of Metal, as far as I was concerned—but he was never my favorite singer in the universe due to the thin and often whiny nature of his voice. Now, although Orchid’s Theo Mindell does have a similar delivery style and possesses a set of pipes that can occasionally (and eerily) mimic Osbourne’s, his timbre is thankfully much fuller, rounder, more forceful, not to mention a tad gruffer, which happily eliminates any and all “Osbourne annoyance factor” in my ears.

Therefore, being generally impressed with the EP, I immediately dove headlong into the band’s 2011 full-length debut album Capricorn, praying the band had continued along the same musical pathway. And once again, from the opening track “Eyes Behind the Wall” onward, the classic Sabbath sound/style is wonderfully replicated, probably more so than most other groups considered “Sabbath tribute” acts. (Indeed, I’ll admit that I enjoy Orchid’s material even more so than the most recent Sabbath “reunion” recordings themselves.) For me, on Capricorn, the dark, dastardly, and doomy guitar riffs steal the show, proving highly enjoyable and occasionally memorable, especially on the aforesaid tune plus “Electric Father,” “Black Funeral,” “He Who Walks Alone,” “Masters of It All,” and “Cosmonaut of Three.” Actually, every single tune has something special going for it.

But is it unique? Heck no, and frankly, I don’t care. The closing ballad, “Albatross,” is an outward attempt to fashion another “Planet Caravan” (from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid) while the album’s title track contains an opening riff that instantly brought to mind “Hole in the Sky” (Sabotage). I could go on and on citing further comparisons, but I won’t bother. The band doesn’t even attempt to mask its influences, yet Orchid in no way perfectly clones or plagiarizes Sabbath either, even though sections of additional tracks, whether it be the main riffs or the rhythms or the solos or the vocal melodies or even the tone of the instruments, periodically send shivers of déjà vu up my spine. And I love every second of it. Now it’s just a matter of me accumulating the band’s subsequent releases so I can continue to revel in the sound/style I’ve adored since my teenaged years.

So for Black Sabbath lovers who don’t mind a contemporary band attempting to recreate the sound and style of its idols from the past, then you might want to investigate Orchid. I certainly have no problem with this “tribute” approach to current music, no matter the genre or the band in question, as long as the obvious tribute is done correctly and with high reverence. And as far as I can see (or hear), the talented members of Orchid have indeed done everything correctly, and with unabashed and untainted respect for the granddaddies of Heavy Metal dripping from every doom-laden note.

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Ozone Mama – Sonic Glory (2015)

OzoneMama_SonicGlory4 out of 5 Stars!

When it comes to vital musical quandaries (ie. “What the hell do I listen to next to satisfy my particular craving?”), I find that fate often intervenes—seemingly out of the blue, along comes another like-minded individual who provides the solution. I’m referring to a new Facebook buddy, who, after reading my posts and discovering my current fondness for “retro-sounding” Hard-Rock and Prog-Rock acts, suddenly befriended me and ardently delivered suggestions that perfectly matched my needs. Didn’t I tell ya?…fate, pure and simple!

Now, one such band he championed was Ozone Mama, a group located in Hungary, of all places, that somehow sounds totally American in its riff-heavy, hard-rockin’ style, with Blues, Soul, and Stoner Rock influences, whisking me back about forty years to the time when Humble Pie, Rolling Stones, Free, Mountain, Faces, Robin Trower, and James Gang, etc. filled concert halls to entertain the crowds with their brand of straightforward Hard Rock.

Not to say that Ozone Mama duplicates any of the aforementioned acts, but the songs on this album do indeed possess a certain je ne sais quoi, one that provides more than a passing nod to the past. More along the lines of The Black Crowes, Cry of Love, Gov’t Mule, or The Quireboys, Ozone Mama obviously worships at the altar of ’70s-styled rockers, and with catchy, guitar-driven, and spirited tracks in its repertoire such as “Good Times Roll,” “Kings and Rulers,” “Ain’t No Place of Mine,” “Man on the Run,” “Hard Times,” and the wonderfully vibrant “Backdoor Man,” tempered with a few mid-tempo rockers and ballads such as “Gypsy Girl,” “Lovelight,” and the absolutely haunting “Hope” (Ozone Mama’s “Wild Horses”), the album truly lives up to its name, Sonic Glory—the magnificence of the past does indeed burst through in the aural delights offered here.

The gifted musicians (vocalist Marci Szekely, guitarist Andris Gabor, bassist Gergely Dobos, and percussionist Máté Gulyás) play their ever-loving hearts out, easily reminding me why I adored those older ’70s acts in the first place, and giving me a reason to equally adore the modern-day groups like Ozone Mama who make absolutely no apologies for recreating the vintage sound—they obviously do it out of their own respect and adoration for those former bands who set the high benchmark for Hard Rock excellence.

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Omega – Omega (1973)

Omega_14 out of 5 Stars!

This Hungarian band’s self-titled album from 1973, thanks to the fuzzy/distorted tone of the guitars and the use of Hammond organ and early synths, often reminds me of other Heavy Prog bands from the same period, such as Lucifer’s Friend, Birth Control, Eloy, Deep Purple, Warhorse, and most especially, Uriah Heep.

Indeed, the Heep influences here are quite numerous. In general, on tunes such as “After A Hard Year,” the grandiose vocal harmonies are definitely “Heep-esque,” and on one track in particular, “Parting Song,” Omega even adds an instrumental passage taken almost exactly note-for-note/chord-by-chord from Uriah Heep’s classic “Circle Of Hands” fade-out/main melody. The instrumentation on the songs “Delicate Sweep” and “The Bird” are in the same class as that displayed on Heep’s Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble album (or even Lucifer’s Friend’s debut release), and on the lengthier closing tune, “White Magic Stone,” an instrumental riff/passage seems almost like a reworking of Heep’s famous “July Morning.”

Yet, despite all the obvious Uriah Heep flourishes, the band is not a direct clone. The English group had a fuller, grander sound overall, often considered Heavy Metal, not to mention a highly recognizable and flamboyant vocalist in the form of Dave Byron, whereas Omega did not. Overall, the guitars lack Mick Box’s fierce, raw power, and the keyboards don’t have nearly as much force as Ken Hensley’s mighty Hammond, and while the vocals are certainly passable, they are hardly delivered with the fiery gusto as Byron possessed. Plus Omega’s vocalist lacks that identifiable stamp when it comes to his tone, range, timbre, and vibrato. And as far as the music goes, in the periodic softer portions of songs when the band adds Mellotron, influences from other acts such as Procol Harum and the Moody Blues rush to the fore. Moreover, two tracks on the album, “Everytime She Steps In” and “The Lying Girl,” are fairly standard and catchy rock ‘n’ roll ditties, sounding almost like tunes by Kiss, Silverhead, or Mott the Hoople, believe it or not, only with Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych influences—and Heep-like keyboards/synths, of course.

Anyway, several reviewers at various music-related websites have called Omega “The Hungarian Uriah Heep,” and for good reason, as detailed above. Regardless, this eponymous album is a classic of underappreciated and obscure Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych, one I continue to enjoy to this day, and any fans of the aforementioned groups seeking additional music from the early ’70s are likely to appreciate the band.

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Odd Logic – Penny for Your Thoughts (2016)

OddLogic_PennyThoughts4 out of 5 Stars!

From the Tacoma area of Washington State, Prog-Metal band Odd Logic came to my attention about ten years ago with the impressive and sophisticated Legends of Monta: Part 1 album, and since then I have snapped up every new release by the group.

Despite the rather goofy yet eye-catching cover art, 2016’s Penny for your Thoughts features more of the same sophisticated Odd Logic style—wonderfully melodic and varied Progressive Metal on tracks such as “Life, Lore, & Love,” “Mr. Compromise,” “The Traveler,” “The Island,” and “Court Of Ancient Rulers.” The clean, crisp, and wide-ranging vocals, the creative musical arrangements and instrumentation, stellar production values and a moody atmosphere, all make for an enjoyable listening experience.

Please note that, up to this point, I’ve used the words “band” and “group” to describe Odd Logic, but truth be told, the actual “band/group” on this album consists of a single member, Sean Thompson, who provides all the vocals and instrumentation. So in essence, Odd Logic is merely the moniker used for Thompson’s solo projects (the band’s original trio of musicians when it formed back in 2003, including Thompson, having disbanded after the debut album). Therefore, apart from several releases where Thompson enlisted the aid of a few individuals who added vocal bits or instrumentation, Thompson typically writes and performs all the material himself, which makes the resulting albums, including Penny for Your Thoughts, even more impressive.

Regardless, fans of other classy Prog-Metal groups such as Andromeda, Dream Theater, Threshold, Circus Maximus, and Poverty’s No Crime should certainly investigate this highly talented act/solo project.

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Osanna – Landscape of Life (1974)

Osanna_Landscape4 out of 5 Stars!

Lately I’ve been enjoying the various releases by this Italian band, those from the early 1970s as well as the latest 2015 release Palepolitana, and 1974’s Landscape of Life is among them.

In general, Osanna has quite a bit of diversity…the band includes a conglomeration of Hard Rock, Folk, Blues, Jazz, and a bunch of Prog-Rock all wedded together into a splendid, rather unique mix, with many of its songs ranging from acoustic pastoral beauty to electronic in-your-face strangeness. On all of its albums, including Landscape of Life, the band seems to have been inspired by many bands such as early Genesis and Jethro Tull to the wackier Van Der Graaf Generator and even Zappa. And when the occasional and wild flute or sax solos combine with Mellotron in the background, it makes for some interesting listening.

Several of the band’s early albums, including its fourth release Landscape of Life, are considered masterpieces of the Italian Symphonic Prog-Rock scene, and after savoring tunes such as “Two Boys,” “Flume,” “Il Catello Dell’es” “Fog in My Mind,” “Somehow, Somewhere, Sometime,” and the title track for many years now, it’s easy to see why.

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Le Orme – Felona e Sorona (1973)

LeOrme_DelonaESorona4 out of 5 Stars!

Le Orme, a keyboard-rich Italian trio that burst onto the scene during Prog-Rock’s initial explosion in popularity, produced some killer material.

On Felona e Sorona, the band’s fourth studio album (and probably my favorite within Le Orme’s vast catalogue of releases), the band often reminded me of a cross between groups such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Triumvirat, Genesis and UK, only with that overall “signature Italian style” Symphonic Prog so readily produced in the early ’70s.

One thing that set the band apart from many of its contemporaries was the seemingly effortless transitions between the lighter, folksy passages, the jazz-influenced flourishes, and the grandiose, bombastic sections loaded with Hammonds and Mellotrons and Moogs. Although this overall collection of tracks is on the short side (approximately only thirty-four minutes) and the production quality is rather dull in places, the music itself is a splendid representation of what many Italian bands were creating during this exciting period in history, with Le Orme offering tight and solid performances on some wonderfully versatile, adventurous, and ambitious compositions.

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Orne – The Conjuration by the Fire (2006)

Orne_ConjurationFire4 out of 5 Stars!

From Finland comes a different sort of Prog-Rock release, with much of Orne’s music sounding to me like a mixture of groups such as Nektar and Jethro Tull, but with a retro “Heavy Psych” style and atmosphere that reminds me of bands such as Landskap and Witchwood.

Generally, the music on The Conjuration by the Fire is somewhat laid back, moody, almost sinister at times, with even a hint of “doom” or “stoner” rock, thanks undoubtedly to several members having various links to Doom/Black Metal or Gothic Rock groups.

So imagine a “darker” version of Jethro Tull, Black Widow, or Shadow Theory, with flute included, and also with a singer (using the stage name Magister Albert Witchfinder, I kid you not) similar in tone and delivery to the legendary Jim Morrison, and that’s what you’ll find on tracks such as “Frontline Dreams,” “In the Vault,” “Anton,” “Opening by Watchtower,” and the epic closer “Lighthouse.”

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Ozone – Self Defence (2015)

Ozone_SelfDefense4 out of 5 Stars!

Hard Rock/AOR fans should absolutely delight in the debut album by Ozone, a new group (or only a single-album project?…not sure) featuring both Chris Ousey (Virginia Wolf/Heartland/The Distance) and Steve Overland (FM/Overland/Shadowman) on vocals.

Both singers not only have outstanding voices for this particular style of music, and a talent for creating ultra-catchy melodies, but sound breathtaking together (a team as powerful and harmonious as Russell Allen & Jorn Lande, or David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes).

And if that isn’t enough to entice a Hard Rock/AOR fan to check out this highly melodic release, then consider that both Mike Slamer (City Boy/Slamer/Streets) and Tommy Denander (Deacon Street/Frederiksen & Denander) contribute guitars, bass, and keyboards, with Billy Greer (Kansas/Streets) performing backing vocals.

I’m telling you, this album is an abundance of riches for Hard Rock/AOR fans, and I, for one, am thrilled to have added it to my collection.

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Orang-Utan – Orang-Utan (1970)

Orang-Utan_14 out of 5 Stars!

From the U.K., this underappreciated and “lost” band falls into the frustrating category of “released one album before disappearing,” thanks mainly to corruption, subterfuge, and (as always) greed within the music industry. It’s a long and disgusting nightmare tale of “the artist once again getting screwed” that is best left for another time…

Anyway, Orang-Utan was a talented Heavy Psych version of Free—sort of Free-meets-Cream—even featuring a singer named Terry Clarke who occasionally sounds as soulful and as raspy as the mighty Paul Rodgers, along with ultra-tasty and wickedly bluesy licks from guitarists Mick Clarke and Sid Fairman, and a rhythm section of bassist Paul Roberts and drummer Jeff Seopardie that seemed just as solid and as driving as that of Deep Purple’s.

With ferocious tracks such as “Slipping Away,” “Chocolate Piano,” “I Can See Inside Your Head,” and “Magical Playground” on offer, as well as some lighter, mid-tempo moments such as “Love Queen” and “Fly Me High,” Orang-Utan is certainly one band that should’ve never gotten lost in the jungle of obscurity, or screwed by the “power that be,” but instead—as the silly album cover suggests—should have taken a giant leap toward conquering the world.

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Outside – Naked (2016)

outside_naked2 out of 5 Stars!

Warning: the genre label of “Progressive Rock” used on several music-related websites when it comes to describing this album is sadly inaccurate. On 2016’s Naked, Outside has lost nearly all of its former Neo-Prog sound from the days of the Freedom album in 2002, and now the band seems to be an Alternative Rock act with only a few Progressive Rock touches, such as during the ending section of “The Plague is Back” and, perhaps, the middle chunk of “Merry Go Round.” But trust me, I’m being generous when seeking out the potential Prog-Rock here. Therefore, here’s a second warning for fans of the group’s Freedom album: Neo-Prog fans expecting to hear anything similar to groups such as Genesis or Marillion or IQ, etc., will be sorely disappointed.

On Naked, the vocals (obviously performed by a different singer from the band’s 2002 release) are borderline “out of key” throughout most of the album and delivered in a lazy style, which, based on my rather limited experience with Alternative Rock, is unfortunately the type of tuneless, lethargic vocal style I frequently associate with this genre (and the reason I don’t gravitate toward this genre either). Moreover, the musicianship is also just “average,” with almost zero in the way of any Neo-Prog guitar or keyboard tones one might expect, with the song arrangements and melodies being, in many respects, ultra simplistic and similar sounding.

I’m not sure what happened within the band that its style would change so drastically from the Freedom album…I’m assuming it has to do with some members leaving the fold and new members (with their individual non-Progressive influences) joining. Be that as it may, the years have obviously not been kind to Outside when it comes to its former Neo-Prog sound, songwriting abilities, or general creativity. The band seems to have “regressed” instead of “progressed.” For an Alternative Rock band, however, the “new” Outside is probably “acceptable,” but sadly, this is not the style of music I can truly appreciate.