Black Orchid Empire’s Yugen (Long Branch/SVT) is a slick new spin on the sounds Heavy Metal people love. The opening song, ‘My Favorite Stranger’ is a headbanging gem, evokes shades of NIN, Tool, and Primal Rock Rebellion. The guitars have a heavy soulful tone to them one moment and a classic rock sound to them the next, all of this is accentuated by clean vocals. The trio is Paul Visser on vocals and guitars, Dave Ferguson on bass and vocals, and Billy Freedom on drums, bringing the thunder.
The second track ‘Burn’ has a chorus that has you singing along impulsively. There is an earthy warmth to the track. The composition evokes the Tannhäuser method; it rises then falls then rises higher, drops down, and crescendos. ‘Celebrity Summer’ begins almost a capella; just vocals and light guitar before bursting into an angry accusatory orchestration. The vocal harmonies are perfect. Sometimes the songs on Yugen have shades of a heavier Blink 182, stronger guitars and more “manly” vocals.
‘Wires’ and ‘Mouth of the Wolf’ have very John Bonham-esq drumming from Freedom. ‘Wires’ is another song that has very strong vocal presence from both Dave and Paul. By the second or third listen, you are definitely singing along. ‘Blacklight Shadow’ is a beautifully executed song. The vocals are soulful, the harmonies silken smooth. The interplay between the drumming and guitar put emphasis on the melody.
‘Pray to the Creature’ is a standout track. The lyrics are poignant. The composition varied enough to keep you wanting more. The chorus delivers. The break at the 2 minute mark reminds the listener of Pink Floyd: wispy, ethereal, heady before returning to shredding guitars and hard-driving drumming. While the beginning of ‘Vertigo’ starts in a very Blade Runner way that segues into acoustic guitar a la Lindsey Buckingham. The vocals, as usual, are strong and heartfelt. The overall feeling of the song evokes Alice in Chains in the interplay of vocal harmonies, simple chord progressions, and background strings/keyboards.
Overall, Black Orchid Empire put together a very solid album. The production value is high. The compositions are artfully arranged. The vocals and harmonizing are satisfying from an aural standpoint. Yugen is a well-endowed musical landscape.