Formed in San Francisco in 2006 and named after a Black Sabbath song (a pretty, mostly acoustic interlude on the 1971 LP Master of Reality), Orchid play the kind of old-school doom metal that tempts people to call it “occult rock” or “heavy psych” instead. (As though you couldn’t tell that from the photo.) They hail from deep in the hazy realm of bell-bottoms, black-light posters, custom vans, and amplifier cabinets large enough to sleep in.
I first heard about the band from the blog of Brian Lew, aka Umlaut, coauthor of a 2011 photo book on classic Bay Area thrash called Murder in the Front Row. These days he works as director of online commerce for Global Merchandising, but his obsession with documenting the music he loves—he started in 1981 and soon befriended a teenage Metallica—has earned him a spot among America’s metal royalty. When he said in 2013 that Orchid were “primed to be the next big band out of the Bay Area,” I paid attention. “Orchid are Kings of Tone,” he wrote. “While their live sound inhales ’71 Sabbath it exhales something that is their own.”
According to an unscientific poll of my metal-loving friends, Orchid aren’t especially well-known in Chicago, but they’re big in Europe—especially in Germany. They’ve worked with German labels exclusively, beginning with the Church Within (which released the 2009 EP Through the Devil’s Doorway) and switching to Nuclear Blast with the 2012 EP Heretic. Last month the band finished a 14-date European tour on which they booked half their shows in Germany. (Orchid are also favorites of Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, and have played his Fear FestEvil horror convention for the past two years.)
Last month Nuclear Blast posted a lyric video for the title track from Orchid’s new four-song EP, Sign of the Witch, which comes out Friday. (The EP is a teaser for an imminent full-length, the follow-up to 2013’s The Mouths of Madness.) Lyric videos are, as a rule, pretty dumb, and these lyrics—which were written to sound good in a song, as most lyrics are, not to scan well in print—don’t do much to redeem the form. I suggest you background this tab and just listen.
Orchid front man Theo Mindell has a vocal range significantly better than Ozzy’s, though they share a fondness for oddly affected pronunciation and eerie studio processing. The song’s frisky, slinky opening groove benefits considerably from the dips and fillips in Keith Nickel’s bass, whose woody, congested, midrange-heavy tone helps it stand apart from Mark Thomas Baker’s perfectly sinewy fuzz guitar. Preliminary tests suggest that this track can turn a bottle of Vitamin Water into a lava lamp from up to 30 feet away.