Until his untimely death in February of 2022 there were few singers who could match the gruff, forlorn weariness of Mark Lanegan. But while the world won’t be able to look forward to a new release from the former Screaming Trees frontman in 2023, on The Last Black Flower (Lay Bare Recordings) the second album by Soothsayer Orchestra, the spirit of Lanegan is ever-present.
Despite the collective implications of the name, Soothsayer Orchestra is in fact the work of one man—Pieter Hendriks. Originating from a small town in the Netherlands, Hendriks would get a taste of the international rockstar life playing drums in bands like Reaching Forward and Born From Pain, before taking a more introspective approach with this project.
On The Last Black Flower (the follow-up to the eponymous debut of 2020) the tone is bleak and sombre—a document of the emotional struggle of getting through a global pandemic.
Musically the album takes the listener through a range of different sonic textures—from the Goth-rock opener ‘Celestial Virtues’ with its atmospherics and guitar leads, to the piano minimalism of ‘Bonediggers Blues’, to the minimal electro-glitch of ‘Black Dust’. Through it all, the ghost of Mark Lanegan is never far away with Hendriks’ deep and weary vocals often uncannily similar in tone.
While Lanegan is the album’s clearest reference point, The Last Black Flower hints at other musical influences, often with alternative rock flavours. The previously mentioned ‘Bonediggers Blues’ sounds like delta blues by way of Mad Season (a Layne Staley side project that featured Lanegan), feeling like a natural fit to the True Detective soundtrack.
‘Kissed by a Tyrant’ carries a slow, brooding alt-rock atmosphere reminiscent of the Gutter Twins (a one-time project of The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli and—surprise, surprise- Lanegan). The gothic imagery of ‘Everlasting Wings’ gives the impression that Hendricks has been reading Cormac McCarthy, while the catchy rock stomp of ‘Destroy Humanity’ already has a feel of Mind Bomb / Dusk-era The The before the midtrack introduction of harmonica really nails the association.
Aside from the latter track, and the album’s opening and closing tracks, which both have more of an epic feel and larger sound to them (the album closer even featuring some sitar), this is mostly a fairly sombre and low-key set of songs, well-paced and varied from track to track, without leaping out and grabbing the listener by the throat.
Though Hendricks perhaps never quite shakes off the burden of the heavyweight spirits he’s wrapped around himself, this is a convincing and sonically varied document of struggle delivered with weary conviction.
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7 / 10