Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Orthodox - Gran Poder

Gran Poder

AOTM #70, March 2006ce
Released 2005 on Alone Records
  1. Geryone’s Throne (27.28)
  2. Arrodillate ante la Madera y la piedra (11.36)
  3. Oficio de tinieblas (1.26)
  4. El lamento del cabrón (16.56)

Note: I should state that the members of Orthodox most percipiently chose to have their first press photos taken at the ur-temple of El Torcal, whose natural rock formations hang above the great Neolithic temples at Antequera, several kilometres below. Co-incidentally (?) I shall be reciting a poem about this temple at the Seville Poetry festival this coming weekend, and have plans to meet these Orthodox gentlemen at said festival. I only hope they choose to wear their own versions of Sunn0)))’s grimrobe for the occasion (see still below), and I intend to extend this review considerably if the planned meeting sheds any new light on their own very fucking beautiful purge of the Catholic psyche. Right on!

Beneath the sandstone bedrock & all pervasive bull worship… something stirs

Unlike Nordic heathens such as Sunn0))), High On Fire, Khanate, Marzuraan and their Wodenist kin, the bound Mediterranean pastors of Orthodox - in their dark pagan worship of the Madonna and her infant Christ - are attempting to wrestle control of their God away from the stranglehold of the Pope's church, placing it instead in the hands of blood-letting, sexually-engorged, free-thinking motherfuckers.

Is March too early to predict Album of the Year just yet? Or is it just fairer to state that GRAN PODER (‘Great Power’) is as overwhelming a debut as any I’ve encountered these past ten years and leave it at that? For this first Orthodox release is a raging and debilitating sonic stag hunt – the beast of any of the doom metal genre I’ve thus far encountered, PLUS its bowel movements emanate from the dry arid regions of Southern Spain, where the Reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition still inform the local popular metal psyche with as strong a grip as the Viking manner in which Thor, Odin, Cromwell, Martin Luther and John Knox still irrigate the anti-monkish/anti-popery of our own northern lands. This Orthodox debut is astonishing – an ever-becoming, ever-outpouring sludge-trudge freerock blitz, cascading cauldrons full of Choukuko no Niwa’s now legendary drum-led epic ‘Fukurou’ over a hugely mannered Sleep-style riffothon, via Sunno)))’s seminal (‘two longhairs in a WWI biplane towing a rainbow’) FLIGHT OF THE BEHEMOTH. It’s as though some Thor-sized Tommy Vance was courting the Goddess Hel herself, making out with a lake of honey mead and a vat of opiated goulash containing four score-and-ten oxen and twenty sheep’s heads. Orthodox is a power trio whose sonic larder is filled to the brim with such cold storage ‘90s basics as The Melvins, Sleep, Trouble, Earth, Sunn0))), Thrones, plus they’ve added to the mix an inevitable ur-trudge of early Sabbath, DANCE OF THE LEMMINGS-period Amon Duul 2 and Yankee Sabbalike’s Bang (‘Future Shock’), with unconscious nods to early Japrock deadbeats Speed Glue & Shinki (‘Red Doll’), Joey Smith’s Philipino walking dead Juan De La Cruz (‘Wanna Take You Home’) and Flower Travellin’ Band’s evenmorestrungoutthantheoriginal versh of ‘Black Sabbath’ or (again) Flower’s own ‘Hiroshima’. Then, Orthodox have taken Neil Young’s RAGGED GLORY feedback endings and welded them in parallel to create Queen Elizabeth/Slomo-sized flame-outs and lashed them to the end of each track. Yup, Orthodox has copped their metaphor and nailed the coffin lid shut on that sucker in one single CD release. Moreover, on top of these staples sprinkled like a frosted winter icing come the exotic ingredients from outerstate – let’s try the Boredoms’ digital FAUST TAPES sleight-of-hand located on VISION CREATION NEW SUN, let’s avoid yer typical Cookie Monster doom vocals and substitute a ghostly and more stellar vaporous heat haze vocal, more so even than Joe’s post-Plant screech on Flower Travellin’ Band’s SATORI; yup, a Catholic vocal more redolent of Demis Roussos’ eerie desert citadel yodel on Aphrodite’s Child’s massive 1972 double-LP 666. Bassist/singer Marco claims to have been best inspired by Lemmy and Venom’s Cronos, but his own achievements on this record are several octaves higher and more mysterious than either

Orthodox at El Torcal

However the band reached this barbarian classic, Orthodox obviously worked hard to nail their own ultra-specific metaphor good and proper right from the off. Unsurprisingly, their own press release reveals a group of fundamentalist musicians whose ur-riff was deeply hewn and strait-jacketed with limitations from the off; and it’s a concept which they have achieved, and in spades, claiming to provide ‘a liturgic music with obsessive repetitions, minimalism, feedback, distortion and endless drones creating a primitive feeling that leads to trance and remains as a perfect soundtrack for every dark point of Christianism: oppression, sin, suffering, guilt and pain.” Well, gentlemen, you just about done the whole fucking deal on this record. But Christian this disc truly ain’t – this shit is more of the half-light Christianity you find in the Iberian outer-reaches, the kind where the local priest leads the local virgins to a great stone with a pathetic crucifix shrivelling in the noonday sun upon its summit, the kind of Christianity in which a statue of the local saint is curtly transported on a pony and trap to the nearest holy well, and let down on a rope and told to make the rain… or else! The Mediterranean regions are full of this kind of errant so-called Christianity, and Orthodox done captured the whole trip hook, line and sinker.

Inspired by one of those Black Rune stories you get on the net featuring characters with names such as Bryton and Merlin, ‘Geryone’s Throne’ is the killer opener that woulda sent Orthodox straight to the top of the class were it the only song they ever offered up to us. It contains all of the aforementioned in-breedients in a single 27-minute endurance test that first psychedelicizes then refashions the listener’s brain using any electric means possible, nay, even at times reducing itself to no more than thunderous cymbal crashes. The mighty techtonic upheavals of Khanate are here replaced – especially on track two (‘Arrodillate ante la Madera y la piedra’) by a kind of Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine splatter-chatter of a-rhythmical drumming that so engulfs the track that only brutally simple riffage can haul both listener AND musicians out of the quagmire. Orthodox are even confident enough to offer us a third track under two minutes in length (‘Oficio de tinieblas’) comprising just stentorian snare drums and simplistic drone piano. But best of all is the humour of the 16-minute closer ‘El Lamento del Cabrón’ which – by employing the same geek’s bright spirit as Dylan Carlson snagged by slowing down Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ for Earth’s 1995 classic ‘Ripped on Fascist Ideas’ – here allows this Spanish doom trio to cop Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’ and drive it at the same speed as a low-geared street cleaning wagon. Elements of Stephen O’Malley’s e-bow fixation and even moments from his FUNGAL HEX Prague installation surface from time to time below the shattering husks of drum/guitar assault, as Orthodox temporarily tames the sonic horned one under a fusillade of San Miguel bottles and holy water. It’s one Hel of a record, m’dears. And one that sets its stall out for others to come and try to better. Hey, the evidence is clear, ladies and gentlemen. Rock’n’roll will never die and Heavy Metal has barely started. All we need now is to slay the Religious Beast once and for all and the rest, as they say, is a breeze. Sideways, Motherfuckers, and don’t spare the Born Again Cretins!

Aftershock: A Roadtrip with Orthodox and Annexus Quamm

Towards the Hill of the Shepherdess: Like Mithraic priests greeting the light of the world, the priests of Orthodox hail Seville's premier Neolithic hill.

Three days after the completion of the above review, I found myself in Seville, Spain, in the company of US uber-refusenik Jello Biafra, Spanish poet Annexus Quamm and the three gentlemen of the Orthodox ensemble. My performance at Seville Spoken Word Festival had been a wild one (natch), followed by an evening of drinking, pointing and portentous introductions to each other (Biafra’s opening gambit to me: “Hey, that’s a fucking Flower Travellin’ Band shirt!”) in which the recurring motifs were The Melvins, Alice Cooper’s ‘Halo of Flies’ and that ur-doom classic always and forever looming – Flower Travellin’ Band’s SATORI. Orthodox’s singer and bassist Marco pointed out to me that their titles are all taken from various phases of the Easter festival that occurs in Seville, as are their black shrouds – each one replete with knotted cord and looking somewhere between a full-face burkha, Sunn0)))’s grim robes and the Ku Klux Klan. It’s for this reason that the Orthodox guys were somewhat nervous of being photographed in central Seville, and even more so by a photographer in a WW2 German peaked cap. But my mission was essentially this: to present Orthodox in their uniqueness, that is: a band of doomsters from outside the Nordic realms; a bunch of rebels whose own Catholic landscape had never been trod by protestants against the stupidity of Christianity, and whose population remain enthralled by the Papa and all that he is said to stand for. With patience, we managed to achieve the required shots in front of one particularly brightly yellow-painted Madonna before I took the three musicians up into the Neolithic hills outside the city, where we achieved the triple Mithraic salute to the sun whilst facing the legendary Seville summit known as the Hill of the Shepherdess. And, all throughout the roadtrip, SATORI was blasting across the hot arid dustscape of this city known by locals as The Frying Pan of Spain. All you northern heathens, please be aware of this, the southern Mediterranean reaches needs you to come and soil their land with your fucked up sound. Orthodox is pretty much alone in its mission, but they are righteous, energetic and, most of all, young! Nuff said. Let the shit come down!