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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Landskap – II (2014)

Landskap_24 out of 5 Stars!

Like the group’s other two albums, Landskap’s sophomore release shows that this U.K. band is a rather unique animal on today’s music scene. Imagine what would have happened had The Doors gone Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych with more than a touch of Doom Metal and Stoner Rock included, with even a few jazzy rhythms sneaking in, and that’s what this act brings to the table.

Generally, on tracks such as “Leave It All Behind,” “Through the Ash,” “South of No North,” and “Tomorrow’s Ghost,” the music is delightfully dark and creepy, with growling Hammond organ and dreamy electric piano ala “Riders on the Storm,” grooving and often Sabbath-tinged guitar riffs, and a Jim Morrison soundalike behind the microphone.

Landskap would likely appeal to fans of other Retro-Rock bands such as D’Accord, Hypnos 69, Siena Root, Witchwood, etc. I find myself being drawn to this album more and more as the months pass by, continually reveling in the eerie yet driving atmospheres and the rock-solid performances by each musician.

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D’AccorD – An Overview

DAccordAlbums In My Collection

– D’AccorD
– Helike

An Overview

Upon first listen, one might think this current Norwegian band existed about 40 years ago, since their style is eerily reminiscent of a time in music when the sound of Genesis or Yes using a Mellotron, for example, inspired so many music lovers to jump on the Prog-Rock bandwagon. Along with the mighty Mellotron, the band also incorporates other vintage keyboard sounds (Hammond, electric piano, etc.), flute and sax, and heavy guitar reverb that tips a hat toward Pink Floyd atmospherics. Indeed, D’AccorD’s production brings to mind the olden days of analog recording equipment, and even the cover art on their albums looks retro.

The band is also not afraid of stretching its musical muscles when inspiration strikes, mixing some “normal” shorter tracks with a few extended pieces. Indeed, their second release, Helike, is comprised of only two tracks—”Helike, Part 1″ and “Helike, Part 2,” each surpassing the twenty-minute mark—which, combined, become one mega epic. But whether the songs are short or extended, no one can accuse the band of not being daring and even adventurous, as each track shows their capabilities throughout various styles and atmospheres, some powerful, some mellow, and all of them well-performed, ambitious, and full of musical depth.

The band has developed a sound that reminds me of a Prog-Rock act such as Birth Control, Jethro Tull, or Genesis melding together with a Hard Rock troop such as Deep Purple, Bloodrock, or Uriah Heep. In many ways, D’AccorD is similar to other “retro-sounding-bands” like Siena Root, Presto Ballet, Black Bonzo, or Hypnos 69, successfully incorporating the classic sounds and production techniques of bands from the 60s & 70s, adding a touch of Stoner Rock, a bit of Psychedelic Rock, some Jazz-Rock, a whole lot of Heavy Prog, and whisking music lovers back to the time when Prog-Rock began.

Hell, when listening to any of the band’s releases, you can almost smell the weed burning in the background…

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Siena Root – Pioneers (2014)

SienaRoot_Pioneers4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The album Pioneers was a fun discovery for me. I’d never heard of Sweden’s Siena Root prior to 2015, and with Pioneers being its fifth studio album, I’m still angry it took me so long to unearth the band.

Anyway, Siena Root has a sound eerily reminiscent of early ’70s Blues-based Hard Rock/Heavy Psych groups, the music of my youth. With fierce and feisty interplay between guitar and Hammond organ on most tracks, along with a solid rhythm section and in-your-face production, this release seems almost as if members of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Bloodrock, Steppenwolf, and perhaps even Grand Funk Railroad got together with members of more current “retro acts” such as Witchwood, D’Accord, Black Bonzo, Hypnos 69, etc. to release this collection of tracks.

Actually, in my opinion, the instrumentation on Pioneers is probably closest to Deep Purple, but a mixture of that band’s first two lineups. For instance, the tune “Going Down” is quite similar in style and atmosphere to Deep Purple’s “Black Night,” while the song “Root Rock Pioneers” brings to mind the bluesy “Lazy” from the Machine Head album. And in truth, other tracks such as “7 Years,” “The Way You Turn,” or “Spiral Trip” also seem as if any of them could have been outtakes from Purple albums, therefore, any fans of that sound/style will likely find this album of interest.

And the vocalist (Jonas “Joe Nash” Ahlen, the newest one) reminds me of a cross between Rod Evans (Deep Purple/Captain Beyond) and—especially at the end of the more Doors-inspired “In My Kitchen” or during “Root Rock Pioneers” or “Keep On Climbing” when he really gets raspy—James Rutledge (Bloodrock). Although Ahlen doesn’t possess the widest of ranges (ie. no Ian Gillan here…as I said, closer to Rod Evans), he’s darned accurate with a gutsy and energetic delivery, perfect for this style of music. And nowadays, after thoroughly investigating the band’s back catalogue since originally writing this review in 2015, I’ve come to the conclusion that, of all Siena Root’s singers, both male and female, fronting the group since its formation back in 1997, Ahlen is probably my favorite among them.

Regardless, although the band’s back catalogue is quite enjoyable, I’ll admit to not being overly enamored with the experiments in Raga Rock that tended to overwhelm the previous studio album (2009’s Different Realities). But thankfully, the band abandoned those “Raga experiments” in favor of concentrating once again on creating the Hard Rock/Stoner Rock/Heavy Psych it did so damned well on its first trio of albums. And not only that, but Siena Root somehow added an extra zing to Pioneers, a special quality that continually entices me to add it to my “current playlist” time and time again.


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Bigelf – Closer To Doom (1996)

BigElf_CloserToDoom4 out of 5 Stars!

Bizarre!….yet I like it. It reminds me of a combination of The Beatles meets Deep Purple mixed with another combination of modern-day “retro-sounding” acts such as Presto Ballet and Black Bonzo.

Heavy yet melodic, a bit psychedelic, a tad progressive in the way genres and instruments are jumbled together, a pinch of soul and funk, and all with a touch of almost “Zappa-inspired” weirdness tossed in for good measure. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the band’s catalogue.

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