Amanecer en Puerta Oscura
8/22/2008 - Review by: Etiam
On their second LP, 'Amanecer en Puerta Oscura', Orthodox continue to defy their namesake. With an engrossing blend of post-rock, drone doom, ambiance, and free jazz, this trio are anything but the status quo, even for the nefarious Southern Lord (who are handling Stateside distribution while Orthodox's label Alone Records manages Europe). Aside from their general country/genre combination--'Spanish doom metal' being a rather scarce phrase--Orthodox are intriguing for a couple reasons. The first of this is the aforementioned stylistic blend, and the more significant second is how they realize it.
Metal critics and promoters are generally too liberal with the use of 'jazz' as a descriptor, perhaps in the misguided expectation that it will equate to erudition in the minds of fans desperate for metal to be considered an elevated art form. But one cymbal shuffle or reed solo does not a jazz album make, and some tech-metal artists ubiquitous scalar patterns (the alleged 'jazz influence') have little to do with the art form that prizes originality and spontaneity over automation. On 'Amanecer en Puerta Oscura', it is a relief and pleasure for the selling point of 'jazz-inspired' to finally be legitimated. Opener 'Con Sangre de Quien Te Ofenda' marks the band's first foray into new instrumentation (such as clarinet and double bass) and pushes forward from its meandering beginning to a percussive climax. No other track is so jazz-oriented, but the influence is carried over in a number of ways--recurring use of the double bass, theme and variation song structures, instrumental predominance, and a less rigid approach to drums and rhythm than many bands in the doom theater. Rather than merely marking the downbeat, Orthodox's drums are aggressive and dynamic--almost narrative in a style that Max Roach would have appreciated.
Of course, a legitimate jazz influence does not necessarily correspond to superlatives, and Orthodox's use of their new tools is not always exceptional. Their interpretation of sludge/doom is liberal enough to encompass such influences and their abilities enough to merit them, but any more jazz and 'Amanecer...' might have come undone. The standard combo instrumentation and lumbering distortion heard elsewhere on the album are necessary to anchor its sobriety, and the effects-laden vocals (think Dax Riggs at his most warbly and distant) that occasionally appear would only work with the backing of dimed-out stacks.
Altogether, the proportions on 'Amanecer...' are just about right. Much more doom and the jazz would have seemed slapdash; much more jazz and the weighty atmosphere would have dissipated. If Orthodox intend to continue on this doom-hybrid path, their foremost task is to synch up their burgeoning jazz chops to doom's leaden pulse. If their tastes lead them elsewhere, we can only wait and wonder, no longer skeptics.
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