Black Orchid Empire – ‘Yugen’ (Album Review)

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Alt-rock up-and-comers Black Orchid Empire definitely know a thing or two about quality songcraft. My Favourite Stranger opens Yugen with sick bass tones, cool riffs, impressively subtle odd-time verses, and – most importantly – a catchy-but-not-overbearing chorus hook. It’s a strong start, and Black Orchid Empire succeed in following it up with some equally classy bangers.

Although the likes of Burn, Celebrity Summer, and Wires are pretty formulaic, they’re solid offerings nonetheless. Burn’s bridge section contains wicked stabs and a vocal that brings Jamie Lenman to mind; Celebrity Summer is a tasty QOTSA/Foos mashup; and Wires even manages to make clicky kick-drums work in an alt-rock context, which is a rare feat indeed. Crucially, Black Orchid Empire don’t come across like immature try-hards – there’s an obvious sense of maturity, restraint, and measured consideration at every turn.

Beyond the inevitable 6/8 borderline-ballad Blacklight Shadow comes Pray To The Creature. A harder-grooving track that sees vocalist Paul Visser periodically possessed by Corey Taylor, it’s damn awesome – and an easy mid-album highlight. Then comes Vertigo, ticking off the “acoustic ballad” box while remaining heartfelt, moving, and engaging.

Perfectly handled there.

Back to filthy riffs and swampy grooves for Mouth Of The Wolf, and you have to hand it to bassist Dave Ferguson and drummist Billy Freedom. A freakish mix of all manner of excellent rock influences – from Reuben and Biffy Clyro to Royal Blood – Mouth Of The Wolf would fall apart were it not for four hands gripping the groove just long enough to nail it down. Add in appropriately vicious guitars and anthemic vocals, and you have another top-drawer track to recommend to your friends.

Although Pins And Needles and Toru’s Maze don’t offer much in the way of differentiation, they’re still good tracks – and closer 11 Years slides fittingly into Yugen’s set-closing slot. Building from a heartfelt piano-and-vocal performance to a chaotic rock climax, it has its place, and works effectively.

Overall, Yugen is a strong sophomore effort from a fast-rising band. My only real criticism is that the production feels overly restrictive – this is a set of good songs played passionately, but bar the occasional punchy moment they aren’t given enough room to really breathe. But that point aside, Black Orchid Empire are heading towards a distinctive sound of their own, already evoking everyone from Queens and the Foos to Arcane Roots, Royal Blood, Tool, Karnivool, and Reuben.

Black Orchid Empire’s best work still lies ahead of them, but Yugen sounds set to give them a well-deserved next-level boost regardless.

LTK RATING: 84%

Yugen drops May 25.

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Posted on 24 May 2018

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