The first thing one is likely to notice in listening to British doom rockers Orange Goblin’s much-anticipated seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned, is the production. With the album release in Feb. 2012, it will have been nearly a full five years since the four-piece unleashed Healing through Fire, and though stylistically, one could easily categorize the new collection as an extension of the ideas of the last, there are some marked differences in the presentation. A Eulogy for the Damned, which was recorded by Jamie Dodd at The Animal Farm in the band’s native London, is noticeably cleaner-sounding across the board. Joe Hoare’s guitars come across in clear layers, occasionally self-harmonizing and providing rhythm tracks under leads, and I don’t know for certain, but the crispness of individual hits in the fills and the consistency of sound leads me to think that Chris Turner’s drums are sampled. Turner is an excellent drummer, so it could just be my (lack of) ears or the digital compression of the mp3s sent for review, but either way, even the notion speaks to the overall increase in production value that Orange Goblin have employed this time around. It’s worth emphasizing that the band’s personality – both musical and in the vocals and lyrics of frontman Ben Ward – is in no way diminished by this, and rather, Orange Goblin come across as matching the increase in profile and stature the last few years has brought with a sense of professionalism and purpose.
Their songwriting remains as stellar and memorable as ever, perhaps even more so, with standout choruses and tales of inner and outer demons recounted in hooks like “A celebration/A ceremony of sin/As the fog rolls in” from “The Fog,” one of several marked highlights on A Eulogy for the Damned. Ward’s vocals have never been technically minded – he’s more frontman/vocalist than singer — but his melodic sensibility has grown, and he carries the verses and choruses of these songs with ease; charisma apparent right from the launch of leadoff cut “Red Tide Rising,” which commences with wave sounds (presumably the red tide in the title) and an introduction of the riff from Hoare before the whole band kicks in. It’s one of the faster songs on A Eulogy for the Damned, and a solid statement of intent as far as what the record is looking to accomplish – light on bullshit, heavy on rock. Bassist Martyn Millard makes it, though. Each pre-chorus finds him running circles around Hoare’s riffing with fills worthy of Sabbath at their peak, and as the song is catchier musically than vocally (at least until the delayed chorus kicks in), Millard’s role is all the more pivotal. “Red Tide Rising” is one of the longer tracks on A Eulogy for the Damned, but it sounds written specifically to be played live, and brims with an energy that’s the perfect, exciting start to an album for which fans have clamored for years. They’re preaching to the choir, but the choir will like what they hear.
Without a dip in pace, “Stand for Something” leads the momentum in a more melodic, less bruising direction. The lines, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger in the long run/And I’m not afraid to die,” begin the second verse, and while one doesn’t often think of uplifting lyricisms as the first aspect of Orange Goblin’s work — though one recalls “Hard Luck” from 2004’s Thieving From the House of God as precedent — the song’s “stand for something or fall for nothing” ethic feels sincere and foreshadows the sense of self-examination later to come on “Save Me From Myself,” while also maintaining the forward motion and groove of the opener and setting the stage for the burlier “Acid Trial,” which puts the band most in their element, both musically and lyrically. Hoare’s leads are among the album’s best, not to mention the solo, and Turner’s drums smoothly clear the way for what might otherwise be awkward transitions from the verse to the chorus, stepping back as Ward’s vocals do what only British rockers can do convincingly in pronouncing that, “Nothing is real” toward the end of the song. Seriously, have you ever heard an American say that and not rolled your eyes? I haven’t. But Ward can pull it off, and by the time he does, A Eulogy for the Damned has already steamrolled through three of its 10 component tracks, and while one might think that structurally, it’s time to ease up on the throttle, Orange Goblin only push further with what stands out among their entire catalog as one of the most anthemic tracks of their career.
“The Filthy and the Few” is nothing if it’s not an apt look at the band’s followers and the band themselves. Beginning with a sample from the 1969 thriller Satan’s Sadists that summarizes the anti-establishment ethos of the harmlessness of smoking grass and the dickheadedness of those police and others who’d stand in the way of doing so – it’s a long quote, or I’d include it here in its entirety – “The Filthy and the Few” is one of the shortest songs on A Eulogy for the Damned at 3:32, but it does so much work in such a concise manner that it’s hard to consider it anything but the crux of the album’s perspective. The chorus, “Back down the open road/The only road we’ve ever known/Step aside, ‘cause we’re coming through/We are the filthy and the few” is a landmark, and it’s propelled by a grown-up punker’s pace that demands fealty. Orange Goblin at their most Orange Goblin, perhaps, but also pushing forward the idea of what that means. They’re a band whose every studio outing has presented something different, and ultimately, A Eulogy for the Damned, whatever aspects it might share with their other work, does so as well. “The Filthy and the Few” takes the trod-on mentality of “The Ale House Braves” from Healing through Fire or even “Some You Win, Some You Lose” from Thieving From the House of God and turns it to forceful and believable triumph. Having now reached the apex and taken the push as far as it can go, Orange Goblin know it’s time to pull back on the pace and move into the album’s next phase.
But for the closing title-track, which is the only cut on A Eulogy for the Damned to reach over seven minutes, the midsection pairing of “Save Me From Myself” (5:59) and “The Fog” (6:46) presents the album’s two longest songs, and even if one chooses to read the tracklisting in terms of vinyl sides A and B, split down the middle between these two – which I’d argue against given the linear structure the flow seems to be taking; it sounds like a CD – it’s remarkable how different the atmospheres between them are. “Save Me From Myself” gets underway with bluesier, more Southern leads from Hoare and relatively subdued semi-spoken vocals from Ward that pick up for another memorable chorus and the first of two guest appearances from Roadsaw’s Craig Riggs on vocals, who arrives halfway into the song to melodically deliver the lines, ”This is an ode to my affliction/I owe it all to my condition/Prayers go unanswered and I turn from the sun/My demons lead me into oblivion,” stopping short of the seemingly-inevitable rhyme word “addiction” to let Ward step back in and deliver the title line, “Oh won’t you save me from myself,” which he repeats in tradeoff with more blues lines from Hoare. Given everything else going on around them, including the sing-along-ready title-line repetitions noted above, Millard’s runs after the five-minute mark are easy to miss, but like his work in the opener, they go a long way to making the song as effective as it is in shifting the mood of the album and offering a varied feel to A Eulogy for the Damned — which “The Fog” almost immediately darkens.
Like “Red Tide Rising,” with which it also shares a moisture thematic, “The Fog” begins the second half of the album with the sound of water. This time it’s a thunderstorm, setting up A Eulogy for the Damned’s most outwardly doomed groove in classic fashion. Turner offers a standout performance in the slower intro, and Ward’s doubled-sounding vocals recount tales of witches and depth-plunging and other things doomly before the quicker chorus already noted, which is one of the briefest and also the most potent on the album. “The Fog” turns, almost exactly at its midpoint, musically, into a bleaker, more metallic atmosphere, Hoare letting loose a progression that’s like “In the Hall of the Mountain King” meets cult cinema to complement Ward’s foreboding warnings. Again, Turner and Millard deftly follow the turns of the guitar, and the smoothness of the shift into echoing whispers and shouted verses happens almost before the listener realizes it, the line “There’s something in the fog” closing out the song over a half-time drum groove that sets up the shortest song on A Eulogy of the Damned, “Return to Mars” (2:27), to revive the energy of the album’s opening, which it does in appropriately spirited fashion. Lyrically, it’s classic Goblin space themes, delivered drenched in reverb over a riff that’s more straightforward rock, and as Turner hits the cowbell to introduce the start-stop second half, the song earns its more-than-filler status, however easily it might otherwise be overwhelmed by “The Fog” or the finale section still to come.
Orange Goblin have hinted in a “who knows? Anything could happen” manner that A Eulogy for the Damned might be their last album, and if that’s the case, it’s songs like “Death of Aquarius” that most sum up their contributions to doom. Like “Return to Mars,” it harkens back to some of their earlier work on records like 1998’s Time Travelling Blues or 2000’s The Big Black, but the song is all head-down riff rock groove. There’s no fuss, no pretentious show of technicality or atmosphere – nothing but solid songwriting and undeniable cool. The second half is more memorable than the first, and though it lacks the flash of some of the earlier material or the pacing and guitar-lead flourishes of “Bishop’s Wolf,” which follows, its position is a minor dip if it’s a dip at all when the album is taken as a whole. After five years, Orange Goblin are likely to have had enough material backlogged that they didn’t need filler, and “Death of Aquarius,” accordingly, doesn’t sound like filler, even if it’s occupying the spot where filler goes on most CDs, after the midpoint but before the end. “Bishop’s Wolf,” though, is more balls-out, and the addition of organ to offset Hoare’s guitars works well in the break. Solos abound, and Hoare’s playing is fluid and in highlight form, but though the song is led by the guitars and Ward is in his front position as ever, none of the elements feel out of balance as the last chorus comes around, and Orange Goblin sound as tight and potent a band as they ever have either live or on record. A Eulogy for the Damned’s victory is almost complete.
Layers of acoustic and electric guitar weave together to commence the build of “A Eulogy for the Damned,” which opens a softer verse like that of “Save Me From Myself” into an even heavier chorus section. Musically, the finale is grand in a manner one doesn’t often associate with latter-day Orange Goblin, but they more than pull it off. Riggs returns for his second guest spot, adding background “ooh”s in the breaks that eventually will lead the band into their final fadeout, but the build progresses further before it gets to that point, never getting as full-on as “Bishop’s Wolf” or “Red Tide Rising,” but not wanting to either. Structurally, it at least partially echoes “Save Me From Myself,” but has a difference in mood that keeps it from sounding redundant, despite the fact the shared appearances between the two songs from Riggs and whatever other factors the two songs have in common. Just before 4:40, Ward finishes his vagrant’s stomp through the last chorus, and the organ that showed up in “Bishop’s Wolf” returns to join Hoare’s solo in the procession out. It’s a final bit of flourish that works well to cap A Eulogy for the Damned, which in turn showcases Orange Goblin’s ultimate mastery of their form.
As a band whose influence will be felt for years to come regardless of their work here or going forward, Ward, Hoare, Millard and Turner probably could have rested on the strength of their discography to carry them through this album, written rehash material, or nothing at all. They could have just toured until they got tired of it and stopped. But there are clear efforts on A Eulogy for the Damned to progress creatively, to push further, and they pay off. In more than just their production, these songs offer a glimpse at how far Orange Goblin have come since their debut in 1997’s Frequencies From Planet Ten, and the crispness and clarity of ideas with which each chorus is presented stands as justification for how anticipated this album has been. Apart from the anxiously-awaited end of the world, I can’t imagine a scenario in which 2012 finishes and Orange Goblin’s A Eulogy for the Damned isn’t among the high points. Highly recommended for beginners and converts alike.London, Orange Goblin, UK