Orthodox, Baal: The March Continues

With three massively varied full-lengths already under their collective belt, be-robed Andalusian doom trio Orthodox return with the follow-up to 2009’s Sentencia in the form of Baal. Baal, released like its predecessor through Spanish imprint Alone Records, is comprised of five tracks that follow the band’s charted course of morose exploration, but find them bringing some crunch into their dirges. Where Sentencia had a medieval, blackly-plagued vibe to it, Baal is more directly doomed, though you might not know it from the near-six-minute instrumental opener, “Alto Padre,” which sets a tone of the kind of free jazz ethic Orthodox has been incorporating into their sound since their 2006 debut, Gran Poder. What remains most consistent about Orthodox on Baal is the band’s ability to affect a mood and their truly open creative sensibility. As much as they’re within the doom genre, they’re almost never limited by it, and from bassist Marco Serrato Gallardo’s victorious vocal warble on “Taurus” to the recklessly rhythmic drive of “Hanin Ba’al,” it seems Orthodox could go anywhere at any moment and be able to pull something coherent out of it.

That’s no easy feat when you’re working with this kind of sonic breadth. With just three members in the band – Gallardo is joined as ever by guitarist Ricardo Jimenez Gómez and drummer Borja Diaz VeraOrthodox manage to completely set an atmosphere both expansive and encompassing, despite a traditionally doomed, spacious feel in the songs. Gómez’s layers of guitar on “Alto Padre” strum and ring freely while Vera rolls on his toms behind, leaving Gallardo to thicken and fill out the song on bass. It’s hard to tell from there where Orthodox might be going with Baal – at least hard to tell correctly – and it’s as though they’re leading from Sentencia directly into this newer material, leaving it up to the first track here to provide the transition from one to the next. If we take “Taurus,” then as the beginning of Baal proper, it’s a lumbering and thoroughly doom face that Orthodox are presenting on their latest work. Gallardo would seem to lead the charge with open bass notes ringing through the breaks and vocals that march as much as they do anything else, but Gómez soon injects one of Baal’s several killer solos and makes his presence known that way. Over time, the members of Orthodox have clearly gotten more comfortable with each other as players, and their interaction is the key to making Baal a success. They never sacrifice artistry or dumb down their playing style to highlight a riff, but neither do they fail to pay homage to the heaviness that was doubtless the impetus behind forming the band in the first place.

Centerpiece cut “Iatromantes” picks up the pace some and relies on a chugging riff for a large portion of its total 8:56 runtime before opening into a long and satisfying instrumental break. True to “form,” just when you think Orthodox are playing it simple in terms of structure, “Iatromantes” turns on its head and introduces new parts to the fold. Gallardo’s vocals are rougher here than they were on “Taurus,” which leads to the shift back on the riffier “Hanin Ba’al,” which actually is the most straightforward moment of Baal, Vera providing excellent snare-minded fills late into the track to complement the Obsessed-style riffing. If Orthodox ever had a sing-along moment, “Hanin Ba’al” might be it, as the song borders on catchy as much as anything they’ve done ever has and strikes hard with the lines “Wash your face with oil/Clean your teeth with blood/Bathe your hands in gold/Bury my heart in the dirt.” They’re no strangers to the epic (lest we forget the 26-minute journey that was “Ascensión” from Sentencia), but Orthodox have managed to streamline their sound on “Hanin Ba’al” so that you seem to travel a great distance in less time. It’s an efficient track as much as a heavy one.

And with the 14-minute “Ábrase la Tierra” closing out Baal, Gallardo, Gómez and Vera ignite a dark avant freakout of nightmarish scope. The song (organ included) unrolls slowly around Gómez’s riffing and builds to a huge, noisy apex that decays into a memento mori of twisted guitar sounds, cymbal crashes and ambient synth chants. There are certainly more horror-themed doom acts out there – several who’ve had successful runs doing nothing else thematically – but Orthodox achieve an atmosphere no less reminiscent of ‘70s Euro-cinema than any of them with none of the over-the-top sampling or imagery. “Ábrase la Tierra” wins out precisely because it does what it does instead of saying what it does, and one could easily extrapolate that to the whole of Baal. They’re never going to be a band universally acclaimed, but for a certain portion of the doomed underground, Orthodox deserves whatever hails they get. Their unrelenting creativity is second to none, and as time and the genre inevitably march on, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find them among the namedropped influences in the next generation of traditional doom. They challenge without being inaccessible for inaccessibility’s sake and know just the right time to let loose the rock. Baal is a triumph for anyone willing to meet it on its own terms.

Orthodox on Facebook

Alone Records/The Stone Circle

Tags: , , , ,

2 Responses to “Orthodox, Baal: The March Continues”

  1. gk says:

    great review. I think this is Orthodox at their most focused and the album as a whole is quite captivating.

Leave a Reply