There's a gazillion horror-themed metal bands out there, and while they're usually enthusiastic and sincere, only a handful manage to distinguish themselves with both talent and originality. So it's always an exciting moment, especially on Halloween, to unearth a black diamond of musical horror in the genre. There are also dozens of indie labels out there specializing in horror music, but one of the more prominent names in the field is Razorback Records, who have discovered some intriguing artists of many modes, ranging from old-school giallo rock like Sweden's Anima Morte and analog electronics with an '80s slasher vibe, to straight-up splatter-metal nastiness. One of the label's latest metal acquisitions is the Louisiana-based outfit Orloff, who take their name from Nosferatu's legendary villain and drape their death, doom and black metal creations in a shroud of gothic atmosphere.
After hearing a three-song demo titled Swamp of the Ravens (named appropriately after a bayou-set grindhouse horror flick), the label picked up the band this spring, and by summer's end they had completed recording their first studio album Apparitions Among the Graveyard Skies, a thirteen-track opus overflowing with gothic organ, horror movie samples, and a spectrum of metal styles ranging from low, clean guitar picking saturated with reverb to swampy doom chords and dirty grinding riffs, accompanied by a vocal mix of beastly growls and banshee screams supplied by all band members... who conceal their secret identities behind the names Alucarda Bellows (vocals), Assassin (guitars), Coffin Fiend (drums) and Waldemar De Marnac (bass, vocals).
The gothic legacy of Hammer Films must have provided a major creative influence on the band, who bookend the album with tracks named after two of that studio's horror classics, Vampire Circus and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb. The intro is a simple and melancholy organ piece, but the closing cut is a sinister death-rock instrumental featuring a burning mid-range guitar solo that perfectly summons the image of swirling Sahara sands. The band's sense of cinema is well-defined in these framing tracks, but it's the material in between that brings the brain-busting horror to life.
"Cobwebbed and Decayed" has a stomping rhythm supporting a solid opening riff and a prancing solo guitar before the main vocal arrives. While death metal growls in the lowest range are often indecipherable (with many bands proud of that fact), the lead here, one of the deepest I've heard in a long time, is more distinct thanks to a mix that accents the lower frequencies; a touch of reverb adds just the right hellish effect. "Crimson Deathshroud,” which you can hear at the end of this article, is a good showcase of the band's multi-textured approach, opening with a long passage of organ and sliding into a clean but slightly burnished riff that gets crunchier in the verses and doubles speed to speedy tremolo picking as the vocals switch up to higher-range demonic black metal snarls. "House Where the Beast Dwells" kicks off with a menacing dropped riff that alternates with a gritty groove, making this one a solid fist-pumper. The downish-tempo "Count Orloff Has Risen From the Grave" opens with a Spanish-style acoustic guitar and has a more pensive sound overall, but it's still got moments of intense menace and an excellent solo. Blastbeats and Slayer modeled riff passages form the undercurrent of "Thrall of The Death's Head,” but there's also a couple of wicked lead guitar lines dripping with evil harmonics.
"Nine Eternities in Doom” is a title derived from the Vincent Price classic The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and contains pipe organ samples from that film... but it's also got a creepy Necrophagia-style riff that's one of the most memorable on the album and my personal favorite. The dirty rolling riffs and snarls of "Paralyzed Entities" suddenly give way to a mellow baritone acoustic break, which in a way is one of the more dramatic shocks on the album. The title track provides another melancholy instrumental interlude in the form of a double-tracked acoustic solo, but the reverb sounds a bit claustrophobic this time. "The Needful Revenge of Arthur Grimsdyke,” a tribute to Peter Cushing's character in the 1972 Amicus anthology Tales from the Crypt, is a slower, doomier track, but the swift march-tempo drumming keeps things intense. The thrashed-up "Chamber of Chills" features a more straightforward lead vocal, spinning a tale of a gravedigger's unnatural fascination with his latest “client.” The last lyrical cut "Master of the Morbid" is a tribute to Poe, set to an old-school dark metal song structure and featuring a Cushing soundbite from another cool anthology film, Torture Garden.
Another nice touch to this disc is the offer of a free “Limited Edition Orloff barf bag” to the first 100 customers who order Apparitions – a promotional gimmick vintage horror buffs will fondly remember from the '70s and '80s (I still have an original bag from the US release of Lucio Fulci's Zombie... unused, thankfully). As of this writing, there may still be some available... not counting mine, of course. Sorry about that, but how could I refuse? This swag is sweet.
With the bag or without, if you're planning an extreme Halloween loaded with gothic gloom and deathly doom, this CD is a must for your collection. The art is winning too, including an EC-comics style cover by Mario Lopez and creepy ink portraits by Reuben Splatterbeast depicting beloved horror stars on the inside liner (including Peter Cushing as Grimsdyke).
Now take a chug of Orloff's deadly brew with “Crimson Deathshroud”...