What the many bands that sound like Black Sabbath tend to miss is that before they were one of the earliest (a diplomatic way of saying “first”) metal bands, they were a blues rock bar band. The sense of boogie from their origins was woven into their best work, from the freakout codas to “Killing Yourself to Live” and “Sabbra Cadabra” to the wobble beneath Tony Iommi’s granite chords on “Fairies Wear Boots.” From what doom has become– even in the most Sabbath-worshipping subsets– that tends to be either downplayed or forgotten. Don’t get me wrong: I still love Down and the like; there’s nothing wrong with embracing downtuning and city-leveling grooves. But there’s something about the Sabbath people in bellbottoms and gypsy skirts could dance to. San Francisco throwback enthusiasts Orchid cast a net over that part of Sabbath, and maybe it’s because it’s one of the less-acknowledged parts of the latter band, but they sound pretty great doing it.
The band summon more than Black Sabbath, of course. Trouble, St. Vitus, etc. etc. could also win you name-dropping points. But what Orchid do best on The Mouths of Madness, their latest and first full-length for Nuclear Blast, is quietly brush their influences aside and just rock the fuck out. The opening title track elicits a smirk within its first five seconds: it’s a riff you’ve heard a gazillion times before over the last 40 years (depending on your age), but it’s still got some life in it. And Madness stays with that line of thinking throughout its runtime: it’s fun without being lightweight, retro without needing a handbook to check the references. Hearing the twin leads shimmy over the waltz rhythm of “Mountains of Steel” could melt the heart of the coldest, most scoff-mouthed motherfucker in a severely weathered Overkill jacket. The analog warmth of The Mouths of Madness is hard to resist.
Surely there’s nothing new here. But there’s a hazy charm to Orchid that makes bands like this succeed. Only one of Madness’ nine tracks clocks in under five minutes and most come in at a notch above si. But instead of sounding labored or pretentious, it’s a fun stream of consciousness; it evokes four guys in a room in love with some riff spilling out of their Orange amp. While Orchid are quite far from the heaviest reiteration of Black Sabbath (and their countless disciples), they’re a pleasure to listen to. By the time “See You on the Other Side” rides its nimble riff into the vaguely ominous one that closes it (and the album) out, you’re not tired. It’s sunburns, burgers, and 1974 for a moment, no matter what season (or year) it is. ( SAMMY O'HAGAR )