As a pseudo-medieval Village inhabited by a motley crew of slumbering (albeit highfalutin) peasants, we've dealt with a lot of absurd challenges. And, to our credit, we've survived ‘em all--quite handily, I might add. Feudal serfdom? A non-issue: we deposed that sucker years ago. Blatantly nonexistent sewer system? At this point we can't smell, and we're certifiably immune to any plague these rats have to offer. Loot-thirsty marauders from the north? They leave us alone now; last time they attempted an assault, we armored up, threw on some Sabaton, and slaughtered their strongest warriors with ease.
But here’s something we have yet to deal with: Orcs. Y’know, the brutish and (typically) malevolent beasts of lore. Two be-tusked specimens have emerged from their slime-ridden dens, and, much to our amused curiosity, are currently sniffing around our hastily constructed barricade. They’ve killed some chickens, but beyond that, they seem...uncharacteristically friendly. This may be a terrible mistake, but let’s let them in, shall we? If we perish this fateful day, so be it.
As it turns out, inviting in Orc (and their self-titled debut) were worth the risk. This two-piece outfit plays a highly energetic and progressive form of stoner rock, making ample use of: a bass, a drum, some mean-ass vocals...and no guitar. Yes, you read that correctly.
Initially I was skeptical as well, but for no good reason, as this might just be some of the most rollicking and inventive basswork I’ve heard in a good long time. Leaning heavily into a jagged tone and a penchant for crackling fuzz, Andy Jeglic delivers a performance with four strings that handily rivals most with six. This thing spits and stutters with soul, spewing riffs and licks with wild abandon. Groove oozes with a tasteful 'tude. I don’t have an exact comparison per se, but on various occasions, I’m imagining a cracked-out Tom Morello covering Fu Manchu--with, of course, some liberal embellishments. This is a prime example of someone pushing the bounds of convention and utilizing their instrument in a fresh fashion--something that is sorely missing in the modern glut of stoner doom/metal. Not often do we slumbering scribes encounter something under this genre umbrella that feels wholly fresh and unique, but here we are.
Of course, the bass isn’t all Orc have going for ‘em. As one half of the crew, Connor Peil needs to pull his weight by default. Holy hell, does he ever. Although we admittedly have a ways to go, this constitutes the drum performance of the year thusfar. Peil creates, on one hand, a very solid foundation for which the bass and vocals to stand. On the other hand, however, the frenetic-yet-precise percussion practically demands attention, spilling thunderous fills and unexpected tempo changes with gleeful (yet calculated) bombast. And then there’s the vocals, which exude a Cornell-esque monolithicsm. Matter of fact, rather than just name all the members, I’ll just come out and say it: Orc reminds me of both Soundgarden and Audioslave, both in regards to the vocal delivery and in the deliberate manner of constructing cadence across a verse, ultimately resulting in an explosive chorus. Rock vocalists live and die by that unprecedented and unexplainable “X-factor,” and Jeglic wields it with a stalwart confidence.
The best tracks herein are those with hooky choruses and a particularly high-energy approach to riffcraft. Side B standouts “Showdown” (with its Clutch-ian cadence) and “One Day” (with its aggressively proggy time signature experimentation) are my favorites from the back half. Meanwhile, “Free (But Nothing More)" remains, after a great deal of listens, the best damn track on this thing. If, of course, I’m forced to choose. This latter has a delicious repetitive-yet-sidewinding riff and a verse structure that builds into one of the greatest choruses that Audioslave never got around to writing. This track’s greatest strength, however, is how quickly it seems to pass by, leaving the greedy listener drooling for more. As, y’know, it should.
In this spirit, my biggest gripe with Orc is that, by benefit of their limited instrumentation, they rely heavily on a A. riffs that fuckin’ smack and B. and some intriguing vocal work--which is a formula that tends to work best in rapid-fire bursts. As such, Orc’s more forgettable tracks also happen to be those that go on for a tad too long. "Living For The Fight” and “The Villain” both feel as if they stretch a little longer than necessary--nothing major, just a tad shaggy around the edges. That said, I remain incredibly impressed by Orc’s ability to do so much with so little. The tracks that succeed do so enormously.
Calling Orc “proficient” seems like a stupidly regrettable understatement. But yet...they are, and remarkably so. These guys know how to play inventive music and write songs imbued with addictive groove and bounce, and if that ain’t enough for ye, I don’t know what is. Moreover, they sound more like a goddamn quartet than the duo they are. Given how well they succeed one their first outing, I’m excited to see how Orc continue to develop, especially given the inherent limitation of their instruments on deck. Long story short: should the Orcs arrive at our Village gates again, we will most certainly let them in.
Well, so long as they leave the chickens alone. We kinda need those.
Orc - Orc was released January 3rd, 2020, and can be picked uphere.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.