Released: 2011, The Church Within Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
San Francisco’s Orchid is probably the best Black Sabbath cover band that’s actually not a Black Sabbath cover band. Yeah, pretty much every doom band in existence owes some debt of gratitude to the mighty Sabs, but Orchid’s musical output is something unique. It’s like they’ve extracted the life force of the first 8 Sabbath albums and mainlined it during their writing sessions. The band’s 2009 debut EP THROUGH THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY was 16 minutes of pure stoner bliss, like Master of Reality wrapped in a patchwork blanket of Trouble and Pentagram. Seriously, if you haven’t heard it, it’s unreal. The EP built some well deserved underground buzz and has had fans eager to hear what Orchid would do with a proper full length. Enter CAPRICORN.
Everything about CAPRICORN feels like it should have been released 35 years ago; the warm analog production, the instrument tones, the arrangements, the packaging, the entire presentation. It doesn’t come off as retro chic, it sounds authentic, and it sounds incredible. And while each of nine tracks on the album act pay homage to various Sabbath classics, it never feels plagiaristic. It’s as if the mindset of the band was to write a batch of songs the way that Sabbath would have back in the day, from the pace and structure to the tones of the bass amp. There are certainly areas where I played the “this riff sounds like it was pulled from…” game, but overall the songs stand up well on their own. Each song has well crafted hooks and memorable choruses that you’ll be humming well after the album is over, it’s seriously catchy stuff.
In describing the songs, think about how varied Sabbath could sound on a single album, and you’ll get an idea of the breadth of material captured on CAPRICORN. “Eyes Behind the Wall” sounds like an outtake from the VOLUME 4 sessions, opening with a mid-paced cadence that builds into a rocking anthem and cedes into a swinging jam session (think “Wheels of Confusion” or “Cornucopia”). “Black Funeral” is a straight up re-envisioning of “Hand of Doom,” and “Albatross” is “Planet Caravan”-esque somber psychedelia. But it’s rockers like “Masters of it All,” “He Who Walks Alone” and the relentlessly infectious title track that really make the album. Going back to the reference about hooks and choruses, these tunes are perfect examples of how to write a heavy song that truly resonates with the listener. I wish that hard rock/metal radio was smart enough to pick up on stuff like this, because it’s accessible enough for a broader audience, but meaty enough to please the die-hards.
CAPRICORN has been available digitally for a few months already, but The Church Within Records has recently gotten around to issuing physical copies of the album. Speaking of which, there’s an ultra-sexy hardcover book version available through TCW’s mail order that opens up like a gatefold LP and comes with alternate cover art, 24-page booklet, and some other goodies. Orchid get massive cool points for a move like that, and it’s one of the rare instances where I’d recommend shelling out for the deluxe version of anything. There’s also supposed to be a vinyl edition coming later this year, which I imagine would be the ideal format for the album. But whichever format you’re considering, the important thing is to pick up a copy. Orchid has exceeded any expectations I had for CAPRICORN; already one of my favorite albums of 2011 so far, it’s an example of the doom genre at its best.