Casting 2020 into Oblivion
Welp, we did it everybody. Praise be to our dear sweet lord of darkness Coop Schuh that this shit-show of a year is over. From the cancellation of every show ever to the loss of The Lookout Lounge, this year has wiped the floor with the metal scene. Luckily, the Metro Area metal community remained afloat, and some of our favorite local hairy dudes created some fantastic music, merch, and videos. At the beginning of the pandemic, we got a new album from our scrappy friends at Silence is Madness, a wonderfully crafted EP from local hunks Witherfang, and more, including the long awaited first full length album from ORPHEUS.
When I first saw Orpheus live, I had a blast. They had opened for Municipal Waste, a favorite thrash band of mine, and I was super skeptical that any of the other bands would be able to capture my attention quite like the main event. I was proved wrong the moment the band started, when the stage room went from a few stragglers to a packed room as the crowd and I gravitated towards the charmingly speedy technical riffage, alongside the band’s charismatic performance and unbridled ferocity. Over the course of the show, while strolling through the pit, I got clocked in the face several times, a sure sign of a good show. Over the next few years Orpheus would become one of my all-time favorite bands to see live, and I had many chances to see them, as they managed to get themselves onto just about every bill (pre-COVID-19, obviously.) The band has earned its cult following in the local scene through hard work and dedication along with its charm, although with me it helps that their sound is heavily inspired by Death, my favorite band.
After that fateful show, I dug through their social media in search of content, and was disappointed when I struck their 2016 EP. It wasn’t that it was bad, in fact it was perfectly fine, it just didn’t quite capture their magic. The vocals didn’t quite match what I had heard on stage, and the overall quality didn’t meet the caliber of the music. It had been several years since the EP and the band had clearly grown quite a bit since then. It’s like looking at a younger photo of yourself. You now know that trip pants and eyeliner were not a great look and that Slipknot was not even the heaviest band in the world. You can look back and appreciate those times for what they were, crappy, scrappy, and rebellious, but you don’t pine for them because that jerk Tim Milkhaus would beat you up once or twice a week, and your stepdad Doug won’t leave you alone about your too long hair and painted fingernails.
Cast into Oblivion is a much-needed update to the ORPHEUS sound, or rather a more accurate reflection of the ORPHEUS sound we have all grown to love. While the tech-death roots and sci-fi guitar wizardry remain the foundation, Cast into Oblivion provides a much-needed facelift to the ORPHEUS discography in the form of cleaner instrumentals and an updated Chuck Schuldiner infused vocal approach from our favorite front man Coop. That’s not to say the Demo, or their self-titled EP in 2016 were bad, in fact we get the return of their single Walking Mountain on this album, but why listen to that when you can listen to this?
Cast into Oblivion has some straight up Bangers! Every main track on this album slays, with standout tracks harkening back to prime mid and late era Death, complete with speedy guitar solos, tempo changes, and complex time signature. Although Death is the prime influence on this album, the album is a bit grittier than a typical Death production, as it has a mix that is clearly harkening back to early 90s death metal demos, giving the album an early Possessed or Nocturnus feel to it. The vocals and guitars also break from the standard Death formula taking a bit of inspiration from more modern tech death outfits such as Vektor, especially with Coop’s Vocals being pitched a bit higher than Schuldiner’s. There is also a bit more dueling guitars ripping through scales that fit a bit more modern player.
While the mix heavily contributes to the overall feel of the album, it also remains my biggest problem, specifically with how the guitars are mixed. The mids in the guitars are a bit too high, which causes the guitars to be a bit overbearing and gives them a bit of a muddy sound, which often overshadows Cole's bass. This is most prevalent in the intro track Trial of Sin, which as an instrumental track, highlights the problem. That being said, after a few tracks your ears adjust to the sound and by the time the next instrumental track rolls around it’s not really a problem anymore. I think in a live setting this guitar tone would have really shined, as higher mids are needed to penetrate through the sonic landscape often dominated by the vocals and upper range of the drums, but here in the more contained and controllable environment it’s not needed.
Gripe (singular) aside, this album has phenomenal pacing, and really hits its stride midway through rather than blowing its load within the first couple of tracks, which is a common problem with a lot of modern death metal albums, keeping the album fresh well into the half hour mark. In fact, the albums intro track and outro track remain my least favorite of the bunch, but with so many great tracks, that’s not saying much. I also want to applaud Wrongful Death’s expert mid album placement. The instrumental track is an intellectually challenging listen and breaks up the surrounding heavy hitters, preventing them from becoming one big block of heavy blood-soaked meat. Yes, I’ll have some broccoli with my steak please!
As far as individual performances go, both Louie and Coop provide the speedy meedly’s we all know them for on guitar, which is no surprise, and Cole does a nice job of laying down the bass when we can hear it. Surprisingly, the real standouts here are Coop’s banshee style vocals and Kyles incredibly clean assault and battery on the drums, which are by far the biggest improvements to the band. Coop’s Schuldiner inspired vocals are a fresh reprieve from the more traditional gutturals in the death metal landscape and serve to help carve out the bands distinct sound, while Kyle’s drum tracks remain interesting while helping the band navigate the technical twists and turns with precision and intent.
As far as tracks go, this album is overflowing with heavy hitters! The title track really sets the tone nicely for the album with its weedly-meedly tech death intro riff, followed by Eater of Light which has this nice slow intro with blocky chords heavy on the delay, then hits you with the nastiest shit the album has to offer around the minute mark. Then you get Walking Mountain, which is so pretty with its new facelift, followed by quirky Leviathan, the epic 5-minute instrumental voyage Wrongful Death, then my all-time favorite Orpheus Track Meditative Misanthrope. Oh boy is this track cool! It’s got this Black Dahlia Murder-eske intro followed by some of the albums most interesting riffs spun together to make an impossibly cohesive bop! There are so many different riffs threaded into this song that it shouldn’t work, but the chorus continues to bring all of them back around. It’s the best track. FIGHT ME!
The album closes out with Seat of the Godhead and their single 666, the former having my favorite vocal performance from Coop, along with some of the better solos on the album, followed by the latter which has one of the better choruses in the album. 666 has this sort of mixture of what the album throws at you, which makes it a nice track to close on, but I’d argue that this might have also been the perfect track to start with. This is the nittyiest of nit picking though, as it does a great job of closing out the album, and the chorus remains stuck in your head well after the track ends.
Nitpicks aside, at the end of the day Orpheus put out a phenomenal album, producing tech death I thought wasn’t possible at the local level. This album was a killer album with twists and turns, heavy riffage, and was just the facelift the band needed. I’m grateful that I can now listen to Orpheus tracks that capture their onstage magic and can’t wait to hear more.
Thankfully, this year has come to an end, and with the help of our friends and the fantastic music they produce, we can all cast 2020 into oblivion.