Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss: This Weight to Bear

orange goblin back from the abyss

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Stylistically and thematically, songs like “Mythical Knives,” “√úbermensch,” “Heavy Lies the Crown” and “The Abyss” aren’t so far from what¬† Orange Goblin¬†have done since 2004’s¬†Thieving from the House of God¬†— they’ve long since been in command of their sound — but the vibe is steadier, more self-aware. They’ve established their formula, and like¬†AC/DC, like¬†Mot√∂rhead, like¬†Slayer, the project now isn’t so much searching for what they want the sound to be as working to refine it as they move forward.

Like its predecessor, Back from the Abyss¬†was recorded by¬†Jamie Dodd¬†at¬†The Animal Farm¬†in London, and if the band wanted to capture a similar feel, it’s understandable given the welcome reception and success of¬†A Eulogy for the Damned. That’s not to say¬†Back from the Abyss¬†doesn’t have a personality of its own. One can hear it in the tightness of the crisp, thrashing “The Devil’s Whip” and its second-half companion “Bloodzilla,” or in how clearly¬†Orange Goblin¬†are writing for their audience.¬†Ward¬†is not through opener “Sabbath Hex” before he’s interacting with an imaginary crowd: “If you understand, raise your right hand/Repeat after me, we are stone free.” Perhaps that’s direct acknowledgement of how much of a professional live band Orange Goblin have become, and no doubt when that cut is aired live it receives or will receive the desired effect, but if¬†Orange Goblin¬†are writing songs for the stage, they run into the trouble of not needing 12 of them for a new release, and that becomes a conundrum for¬†Back from the Abyss¬†as it plays out. The semi-title-track “The Abyss” is well constructed but doesn’t accomplish much that “√úbermensch” didn’t already nail, and while the penultimate “Blood of Them” is a blend of hook and horror-inspired atmosphere worthy of “The Fog” from the last record, “Into the Arms of Morpheus,” which ends the first half of the album (presumably, the first of two LPs encompassed), is a better longer-form progression, sounds more inspired and is closer to the front for a reason. The three-minute instrumental closer, “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” has a lumbering doom sensibility and deftly layered-in solo lines from¬†Hoare, but where it seems to be waiting for its kickoff-riff the way “Mythical Knives” moves from a progressive-sounding opening into bruiser riff and the band’s particular burl, the last track just fades out, ending an offering¬†so obviously keyed for adrenaline on a downer note. Maybe that’s the trip back from the abyss? I don’t really know.

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For longer-term fans, the meat of¬†Back from the Abyss¬†comes toward the end of its first half. “Sabbath Hex” is a vibrant opener, “√úbermensch” is a formidable¬†showing of a songwriting formula at work, and “The Devil’s Whip” proves that¬†Orange Goblin¬†can tear it up full-speed with no questions asked, but it’s “Demon Blues,” “Heavy Lies the Crown” and “Into the Arms of Morpheus” that really convey a sense of the band’s maturity, their position among the world’s foremost heavy rock acts, and an album-style flow.¬†Millard¬†and¬†Turner¬†setting the foundation,¬†Hoare¬†drives the riff of “Demon Blues” and¬†Ward¬†masterfully rides that groove, leading to the bluesy intro of “Heavy Lies the Crown,”¬†vocals following the guitar for the album’s catchiest chorus: “Who am I to, to make the rules, to break the rules and slay the fools/How am I, to be the man, who rules the land, with sword in hand/Fire roars, upon the shores that carry heroes off to wars/Heavy lies the crown I wear, but I did swear this weight to bear.” A somewhat inflated view of the band’s status, but a hell of a hook. At 7:27, “Into the Arms of Morpheus” is Back from the Abyss‘ longest track,¬†Millard¬†handling the opening with a choice bassline soon built upon by¬†Hoare¬†and¬†Turner, the song taking a stoner rocker’s time to fully unfold. It works in three movements — the opening jam, the verse/chorus trade, and the closing jam — but it’s structurally and in sheer listenability the most human portion of the album, and they still get their sing-along in there too. The subsequent “Mythical Knives” is a solid opener for the second LP of a kin with “Sabbath Hex” or “√úbermensch,” but “Bloodzilla” and “The Abyss” don’t have the same urgency behind them, and “Titan,” the instrumental preceding “Blood of Them,” features a welcome guitar hook, but neither pulls the listener back in nor leads directly into “Blood of Them,” which opens with fading-in bass over spooky-style ambience and shifts into a vehement closer (even though it’s the second to last track, it’s obviously the final push), with¬†Ward‘s growl echoing out one last monstrous chorus.

Even the transition between “Blood of Them” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth” seems choppy. They could’ve easily put some more spooky rumbling after “Blood of Them” cut out to smooth the way into the finale, but it’s cold one into the next, and in truth, much of the album is that way as well apart from the first-half section already noted. As a fan of the band, I won’t discount¬†Orange Goblin‘s songwriting ability, and in presence and performance,¬†Back from the Abyss¬†lacks nothing. For how tight they¬†sound, however, the presentation should match, particularly as it’s the longest record they’ve ever done (1998’s¬†Time Travelling Blues¬†and 2002’s¬†Coup de Grace¬†were close). Still,¬†their momentum will continue to carry them forward, and there’s more than enough material here to fit well in the setlist alongside “Red Tide Rising” from the last record and the host of classics from¬†their¬†storied career — “Quincy the Pigboy,” “Scorpionica,” “Blue Snow” (if you’re lucky), “They Come Back,” “Some You Win, Some You Lose,” and so on — and that’s pretty clearly the point. Back from the Abyss¬†isn’t a perfect album, but for a lot of what they do and however many hills they may yet climb,¬†Orange Goblin¬†are largely undeniable. They remain undeniable.

Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (2014)

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