posted on 10/2011 By:
While modern doom metal is currently being held hostage by the occult, 70’s-worshipping reactionary movement and its retro-obsessive bootlicking mentality, the genre also hosts a sizable-yet-unsung undercurrent that flat-out refuses to submit their art to mere monomaniacal mimicry. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a quality knockoff and dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists per se, but in music that embraces the ethos of individualism -- and even elitism -- it should be a travesty that followers can steal the spotlight from leaders without a hitch. Whether this great class struggle and the ensuing tyranny of the masses is in fact just a product of my imagination or not, it feels like Spain’s Orthodox has been one of its many victims throughout the band’s seven-year career. The outfit’s second installment, Amanecer en Puerta Oscura, was a bold venture into jazzy improvisation and post-rock’s dialectic of refrain and release that would’ve undeniably deserved its place in the limelight, were it not for the fact that it required a bit too much time and broad-mindedness and too many repeated listens to become a distinguished state-of-the-art masterpiece. Orthodox, however, is still alive and kicking and has somehow snuck into their fourth full-length, Baal, which unfortunately (at least for those of us who explored Amanecer… to the fullest and then jumped ship before the third album) strays from the path of kaleidoscopic envelope pushing in favor of more conventional lead sheets.
Indeed, gone are the trumpets, clarinets and overall what-the-fuckery. What’s left is the bony structure made up of plodding rhythms, bluesy guitar work and the oh-so-familiar wailing chants that have replaced the almost complete vocallessness of days gone by. The good news is that Orthodox is one of those bands that can take the doom template, turn it inside out and back again and finally make the whole thing work more or less like a charm. So, while Baal may not be as challenging and far-reaching as at least some of its predecessors, it’s also a far cry from showing symptoms of a steady decline. And although the general order of things may have shifted more towards the golden mean, it is not to say that the members of Orthodox wouldn’t still have a few surprises under their pest-ridden cloaks.
The discordant, droning intro piece, “Alto Padre”, actually fools you into believing that Baal would just add another episode in the Spaniards’ musical journey from the vestibule of Hell to the well of giants in their mission to mock the genre boundaries and maybe ruffle some feathers in the process. The following two songs, “Taurus” and “Intromantes," quickly obliterate this thought by getting down to brass tacks with slow, almost non-existent chord progressions, drums that offer little in the way of backbeat and distant crooning, which together form competent and even somewhat original (yet still slightly derivative) variations of the ABCs of doom metal. “Hanin Ba'al” gets things back on track with the most infectious, thudding one-chord groove and a chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Manilla Road anthem. The band continues revelling in epicry with the fifteen-minute closing number, ”Ábrase la Tierra”, which comes close to a tribute to Reverend Bizarre’s ”Cirith Ungol” with its near complete lack of hooks and uneventful self-indulgence; making it an ultimate mood piece but also a track that’s easy to skip the minute you get distracted by the thought of... well, I can’t recall what it was anymore.
Looking beyond mere riffs and arrangements, the fourth Orthodox record continues the outfit’s trend of avoiding the farthest extremes that are often times associated with doom metal. You don’t need to prepare with cold spoons for your tear-swollen eyes, nor will you feel like being forced to gnaw at your own fibula wrapped in barbed wire when blasting Baal at full volume. However, the band’s music is still surrounded by some weird aura of distress that draws you to marvel upon gnostic mysteries and dark esotericism, and this ritualistic element of their songcraft gets an even more elevated position in the newfound minimalism. Whereas Orthodox clearly sees the maximum effect of this austere meditation to be achieved through fuzzy, feedback-laced self-examination (re: the last six minutes of the album) or repetition of riffs and patterns with almost identical punctuations, the tedium of this asceticism makes you sometimes wish that the instruments would just let loose and lay waste to everything that gets in their way.
The bottom line is that Orthodox may have hit a creative peak and reached a plateau on their second album, but Baal is far from being uninspired. It’s not a particularly rough ride for those who pine for crushing heaviness and there is next to zero of that sexy Satanic diatribe that gets you to places, but, despite the few shortcomings and a more buttoned-down approach than maybe expected, Baal is still packed with so much personality that – while not exactly bursting at the seams – makes it an interesting yet hardly the most relevant addition to your ever-growing doom collection. That is, of course, if you’re not already predestined to march to the beat of copycats.
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