Release DetailsLABEL Southern Lord Records
RELEASED ON 1/23/2007
“I've found you've got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”
- John Coltrane
With their identities hidden by black hooded robes, the three anonymous members of the Spanish doomsters Orthodox created an album last year that almost bridged the gap between drone doom and traditional doom. By taking the stretched out, ultra slow crawl of a Teeth of the Lions Rule the Divine type and packing it full of nods to trad-doom favorites, Gran Poder exhibited a rare duality: the band kept one foot in the past while the other explored newer stylistic ground. In other words, a pretty good fit for the Southern Lord label who are finally giving this album wider distribution with a previously released Venom cover tacked on. But, the real appeal of Gran Poder wasn't so much the end result as it was recognizing the various influences involved. The subterranean music press made much of the album's inspirations: Coltrane's Ascension and Ligeti's "Requiem," among others. Were Orthodox interested in simply whetting the appetite of those avant-minded metalheads or were they truly devoted to furthering their genre by looking outside of it?
Upon listening, you find that it's a bit of both, although it's presented in a unique way. Going in blind, one is not likely to find links to any giants of 20th century avant-garde, which certainly doesn't make this less of a listen. Opening track "Geryon's Throne" is a twenty-seven minute monster that's notable for the ground it covers (doom and drone to noise to uptempo stoner), if nothing else. "Arrodíllate Ante La Madera Y La Piedra"'s Earthy backing drones allow for free improvisation on the drums. "El Lamento Del Cabrón"'s middle sounds like High on Fire secretly snuck into the studio and laid down a track while Orthodox were dropping off their getups at the dry cleaner. For the most part, it's a product of this modern era where bespectacled arty snobs and bearded nihilists unite in their praise for slow-mo, hold-it-'till-it-hurts riffing. But, when examining the details of Gran Poder, it's hard to think that the only thing on Orthodox's mind was playing slow and heavy.
One thinks the band was focused on bringing metal's past back into “the music of the future.” Because of this outlook, they buck modern expectations. Their droning riffs are not the painful sludgery that most bands of this type now shoot for. Instead, the riffs sound rather classic, almost like early Eighties doom. The bounce and groove associated with most stoner rock is fully filtered out, leaving these timeless down-tuned monoliths. Also tied to the past is the vocalist, a powerful, from-the-gut shouter who almost sounds like King Buzzo doing Ethan Miller doing Sir Albert Witchfinder. The louder he gets, the more his voice quavers, but it's still far from the caustic howls of Khanate. And that's one of Gran Poder main points, it is far from the works of the newer avant-garde set without sacrificing the experimentalism that drives those bands forward.
Whether they bring in any elements from outside of doom is debatable. To reiterate, you're not going to find the influence of a Coltrane and a Ligeti unless you're specifically hunting them down. Ligeti might show himself on "Geryon's Throne"'s extended noise section, something that recalls his "Atmosphères," in that the band's only interest is timbre, ignoring melody, harmony, and rhythm. Coltrane's experiments in modal jazz never do pop up. Instead, like with Ligeti, Orthodox channels the saxophonist's approach to music. Where Coltrane explored the upper register of his instrument in a quest to reach a higher spiritual plane, Orthodox connects to the hum of the amplifier. They adopt their influences' philosophy instead of their sound, which contrasts the way they let past benchmarks (read: the sound) inform their boundary crossing steps into the unknown. So, it can be said that they're not looking outside their genre, they're just eyeing it through the perspective of these chosen outside artists.
Orthodox do have their share of downsides. Reading about their pretensions (“We force the audience to be centered in the side of our shows,” etc.), it's easy to forget that these guys are more than just a silly performance art group. That, and these songs never build towards a thunderous conclusion, never giving you the payoff you deserve for enduring them (they also lack the propulsion that bands like Corrupted have down to a science). In fact, one thinks that was almost the point. Gran Poder is a difficult listen, sure, but its best moments match its intriguing set of influences. For instance, six minutes into "Greyon's Throne," the guitar and bass break free from the riff and start playing off one another while exploring the main theme. Those are the moments that make you wish you could fast forward through the years and see where the band ends up. They're not there yet, but if Gran Poder is a sign of things to come, we've got some mighty fine days ahead.