If you’ve been around stoner rock for 35 seconds or more, chances are you’ve encountered at least one band that made you say, “Damn, this sounds just like Black Sabbath.” Assuming you weren’t actually listening to Black Sabbath when you said it, it could have been just about anyone. In one way or another, every band in the genre is indebted to the Birmingham gods, whether they like it or not. San Franciscan four-piece Orchid like it. They like it plenty.
Orchid’s debut EP, the 16-minute Through the Devil’s Doorway (out via Germany’s The Church Within Records) is an exercise in praise of all things Sabbath. Bassist Nickel is Geezer, guitarist Mark Thomas Baker is Tony Iommi, drummer Carter Kennedy is no Bill Ward, but no one is, and vocalist Theo Mindell is cast in the Ozzy Osbourne role, which he handles ably (he is also a tattoo artist and in charge of the band’s formidable graphics). The four songs that make up the release bring Sabo worship to new heights most bands wouldn’t dare to reach even if they could; each one having a companion in the Ozzy era catalog.
Opener “Into the Sun” owes its existence and main riff to “Symptom of the Universe” from 1975’s Sabotage. After an appropriate sample, “Eastern Woman” comes on like a slower “Children of the Grave” from 1971’s Master of Reality before it fades out just past the 4:20 mark. “Son of Misery” melds “N.I.B.”-intro bass with a reverbed Iommi solo before Mindell comes in with a “Sabra Cadabra” inflection, and closer “No One Makes a Sound” starts off courtesy of “Supernaut” until at 2:20 it breaks into a more individualized jam before coming back in with more modified “Children of the Grave” (brighter somehow) to close out Through the Devil’s Doorway.
What’s impressive about Orchid’s EP is not that they’ve so blatantly taken up the Sabbathian cause, but rather the tones with which they do it. Nickel’s bass is clean and Baker’s guitar has just the right roughness to it to capture Iommi’s sound properly as it was in the mid-‘70s. Mindell is not the first vocalist by any stretch to rely on Ozzy’s style to get his point across, but it’s plain to hear underneath it that he has a powerful voice all his own. Though Carter does an amiable job throughout, most especially on the last two tracks, I waited to hear Bill Ward fills and simply didn’t. “Into the Sun” has a couple, but Carter’s style is clearly more modern. It still works for what’s here.
There will be plenty who encounter Orchid (I know there were certainly some at last year’s Planet Caravan festival in North Carolina) who will immediately dig into Through the Devil’s Doorway’s über-Sabbathry, and there will be others for whom the impulse will simply be to go ahead and put on Black Sabbath instead. And it’s true that if we judged stoner bands based on the Sabbath standard, we’d all have to burn our record collections, but with a band that has so outwardly adopted the sound, it’s inevitable. Orchid give a fine showing of themselves on their debut, but anyone seeking it out (or just streaming it on MySpace; since it’s all up there) should know what they’re getting into.
Tags: California, Orchid, San Francisco, The Church Within