"Back From The Abyss"

By The Great Sun Jester

Orange Goblin plays music with energy, commitment, and intelligence. Their new album from Candlelight Records, "Back From The Abyss", bears the hallmarks of an outstanding metal album. Muscular production pushes the guitars and rhythm section to the fore, vocalist Ben Ward has powerful pipes, and the songs cover the full range of metal's popular subjects while never neglecting to toss in a couple of anthems for good measure.

 Maybe I'm over thinking things, but I can't get comfortable with it. The opener, "Sabbath Hex", offers an ideal illustration of why. It is a high-octane blast of unflinching energy with an anthemic chorus guaranteed to bring audiences to their feet. The name-dropping of Sabbath tunes into the lyrics is clever and fits the subject matter, but feels like an affectation. Some are going to read this and say, sure man, the whole business of being in a heavy metal band and playing the music is an affectation. This is parody - not mocking, but loving. It's a lark, a band establishing a common identity through their shared Sabbath-love, but in the end, it is nothing but pure pastiche lacking a distinctive voice.

The second track, "Ubermensch", accentuates the strengths heard in the first track while avoiding some of the same pitfalls. Orange Goblin hits the listener with another strong chorus ripe for audience participation and avoids any sort of overt homage to their influences. Ben Ward's range is ideal for the material and exudes genuine front man swagger. It disappoints me some that the song's subject matter merits such a predictable lyrical approach, but the music never fails to entertain.

 "Heavy Lies The Crown" finds the band breaking out of their self-imposed straitjacket. Far from some jackhammer tribute to metal gods of yore, this groove-heavy effort shows the band creating a sort of metal blues with a surprisingly strong lyric. Ward's vocal full of weary, defiant pride adds much to the song. Another positive is how the song shows off a theatrical side of the band, particularly in the song's second half, that renders any questions about their originality moot. All longtime metal fans have heard this song before, but Orange Goblin frames this song in such an enjoyable way that it never feels like a calculated facsimile of an older band. Instead, it plays like a talented group of inspired musicians offering their take on a traditional metal subject.

"Into The Arms of Morpheus" is another hint of the band's deeper potential. Bookending this song with a brief, bluesy mid-tempo intro and outro contrasts starkly with the Sturm and Drang conjured for the verses, chorus, and bridge. It helps distinguish the track some, but not enough to elevate it far above predictability. Rather than capitalizing on their individual strengths, the band travels on a well-worn path with diminished results.

"Mythical Knives" is the album's best track, in part, because it does what the above-mentioned song failed to do. It counter-balances the familiarity with a heavy dose of the individual. Musical highlights abound. Unique flashes of lead guitar blister the listener and fluid, powerful drumming pushes with unwavering accuracy, but quieter passages highlight the song as well with tasteful atmospherics.

If you can accept Orange Goblin for what they are, a talented and relatively un-ambitious heavy metal band, there's a lot to enjoy here. Others who hope for a little more will still find great music on this album, but it might be tinged with the bitter taste of a band content with playing down to its talents instead of pushing themselves in new directions.