Over the course of their history, Greek metallers On Thorns I Lay have undergone some significant shifts in sound and hit across waves they haven’t always been capable of riding. After name several name changes and a more death metal style, their first outing under the On Thorns I Lay moniker saw a Gothic/Doom/Death sound creep in; culminating in 2003’s messy attempt at an alternative progressive rock sound akin to Radiohead or Porcupine Tree which ultimately saw them split up soon after, due to losing sight of their musical identity according to the band themselves. Continue reading
Those who are already aware of the strange vagaries of Sevillan heavyweights Orthodox may not be surprised to hear that ‘Suyo es el rostro de la muerte…’, the opening track from fifth album Axis (Alone Records), is layered with husky, mellow horns and a squealing saxophone. Despite Marco Serrato’s hulking yet dextrous bass notes and the careering, joyously expressive rhythms of Borja Diaz, the impression given by this and the bookending horns and strings of closer ‘Y a ella le sera revelado’ is of a Progressive soundtrack to a 70s US cop show, harking back more to second album Amanecer en Puerta Oscura than the Doom fest of 2011’s Baal (both Alone Records).
Having parted with long-time guitarist Ricardo Jiménez last year, this is the first album from the band as a duo, the remaining members seemingly free to indulge their panoply of influences whilst retaining that low-end core. ‘Axis / Equinox’ flings around trumpets, flutes, a sawed violin and atonal piano in a freeform chaos before allowing Serrato to intone over a quelled cacophony, while the rhythmic bass of ‘¡lo, Sabacio, lo lo!’ is graced by delightfully soaring African percussion and choruses.
Single ‘Crown For A Mole’ and the brutal ‘Canìcula’ sees the resonant boom of the band’s more sinister material return to its fullest, albeit enlivened by those syncopated structures. The mournful opening to the fearful ‘Medea’, meanwhile, is laden with Spaghetti Western-style high notes and the odd piano flurry: the subsequent crashing lead effects and cymbals haunting the slow, quaking, pummelling rhythm for what is arguably the most stirring ten minutes in Orthodox’s history. Here Serrato’s unique, warbling bellow is chilling; the roared “There’s nothing there…” ripping the soul from the body while retaining its curious melody.
It is the rhythm department, however, which produces much of the magic of Axis: blending a crushing claustrophobia with those proud Jazz influences, it is often overlooked yet it is the lynchpin of the band’s sound. The portentous groove of ‘Portum Sirenes’, for example, is dictated by bass notes that plough through the solar plexus and warp agonisingly around the loins, whilst pounding drums create mighty patterns for the hypnotic, tuneful flurries to dance through.
The whole, a meld of all manner of naturally rhythmic styles with elements of bright light and a heavy, heady horror, is the dazzling result of perfect alchemy. This most ambitiously unifying project yet is also Orthodox’s greatest statement, and affirms its status as one of the most vital bands from any genre of music.
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Sevillan duo Orthodox are respected in underground Metal circles as a Progressive Doom outfit. The band, however, see themselves as much more than the descriptors would suggest. From a chilly quadrant in Salford, Marco Serrato and Borja Diaz talk about their first tour of the UK, their transition from a trio to a duo, and the influences that vary their sound ahead of their as-yet-untitled fifth full-length, due in November.
“We have played Birmingham before, around 2008 and 2011; but this is our first full tour of the UK” states drummer Borja. “Here, we are playing five shows as Orthodox, and another with our other project, a free improvisation group called Sputnik Trio. Some people seem to have enjoyed us, but it’s not been too crowded so far: we’ve played in front of about 40 people in both London and Birmingham. England is sometimes a hard place for a small band as you have many big bands, and a busy gig culture compared to ours in Spain.”
The guys are still getting used to being without their former guitarist and founder member Ricardo Jiménez, who left the band last year after a decade of playing together. “It feels strange, and we miss him” reflects vocalist / bassist Marco, “But if we were still a trio we wouldn’t be here today. Ricardo is a schoolteacher, and could no longer play as often as we wanted to as he has other priorities. There were creative differences also, and these two things meant we had to part. It’s painful for both sides: I’ve known him since school, we have children who are friends with each other: but we are still friends.”
The band’s last album, Baal (Alone Records), was a more traditionally Doom-based outing than their previous three albums, and the duo have mixed feelings about it: “After two steps forward, Baal was a step backwards”, opines Borja, “though it was absolutely deliberate. We were so energised after our third album Sentencia (Alone Records), and a number of festivals wanted us including Roadburn. We have to write tunes that we can play live as a duo and a trio, as we usually require trumpets, horns, and all kinds of things, and many venues don’t pay us what we need to provide the extra musicians.”
“If we had money, we could afford to tour and show all the faces of Orthodox”, laments Marco. “Sadly, we will probably lose money even from this tour. People have this impression of us as a schizophrenic force that plays Metal, and we have managed to put this together in Seville where people can see how one thing speaks to another, a kind of Pink Floyd mentality, an organic flow from one thing to another. We like both Metal and Jazz, and like to incorporate the two. We both feel that our second album, Amanecer en puerta oscura (Alone), is the album which most represents our core. Baal is definitely our ‘Metal’ album!”
So how do Orthodox describe Orthodox? “Everything”, states Marco somewhat arcanely. “Sometimes I still feel like that teenager who listened to Sodom and Sacred Reich, but I listen to many things and I’m tired of some of the stupid clichés that are often given in underground metal. You need freedom. I don’t feel offended when people call us a Doom band: I understand that people need labels, and as a point of departure maybe it’s correct. When we first started out we had bands like Cathedral and Sunn O))) in mind, but there’s more to our sound. I can probably identify more with Earth because they play slower and with hard riffs, but they think in ideas. I don’t connect so much with, say, Reverend Bizarre, which is a cool band but a little more generic. I personally am not that kind of musician!”
Both Marco and Borja are excited about that upcoming album, which recent single Crown for a Mole (Alone) indicates will be slightly more up-tempo: “There are a couple of faster songs on there”, asserts Marco. “We’ve wanted to play fast for some time. Overall, however, it is the closest album to Amanecer… that we have done. We have put all the faces together again in one album. You have the heavy stuff but you have horns, clarinets, we have a strange African-influenced song on there…we have missed a couple of things from Ricardo, like some of his crazy chords, but it sounds again like our vision.” So how is that rhythmic, sonorous balance achieved? “We play our instruments without many rules”, states Borja, “And sometimes they clash.” “When we were a trio” continues Marco, “we were three soloists playing together but there was always something happening: here we have lots of collaborations, with a guitar player, clarinetists, and saxophonists, so again we have so many different things in our sound.”
It sounds like a remarkable experience, which an Orthodox album always is. If you like your Low-end rhythms shot through with a sense of mystery, adventure, and no little beauty, this Spanish duo are most definitely worth your investigation.
WORDS BY PAUL QUINN