4 out of 5
Label: Bright Antennae
Produced by: Greg Gordon, Dave Sardy (executive)
They’ve got the big city roots, being from L.A., and they’ve got the right producer – Dave Sardy as a mixer and executive producer, also having worked with the likes of Black Mountain, and Wolfmother – and they’ve certainly got the look, with the nappy hair and skinny jeans and jewelry: sure, Beware of Darkness are poised to pull off the Led Zeppelin hard rock thing. And at a glance, with their 70s swagger riffage throughout, or the Bowie-esque glam of Sweet Girl, or even when they switch gears for Beatles’ harmonies on closer Hummingbird, it’d be easy enough to label BoD as derivative as a lot of the bands that emerged from the classic rock revival that started festering in the mid 00s.
But that’s really just at a glance. Sitting down to properly listen to the album, the depth of the band’s chops – and the possibilities of their sound – are apparent from opener Howl, which rips across with Wolfmother gusto, but marries it to more of an underground rock sense of structure, and momentum. These aren’t stoner rockers, or boys trying to pull off a pastiche: they’re a group indebted to sounds of the past who’ve emerged with a fresh and modern take on it. This gives way to tracks that are haunting and brutal mash-ups of folk, and post-rock, and blues – such as Ghost Town – or songs that are more confidently pop, such as single End of the World. This gives ‘Orthodox’ a surprising amount of range, while eyes still remain on the prize – rock and roll – helmed to arena-filling presence by producers Greg Gordon and Dave Sardy (whom the BoD crew openly thank in the liner notes for making them sound bigger than their budget should’ve allowed).
The lyrics are compelling: while some of the anti-authority themes and odes to heartbreak are a bit derivative – well written, but well written about generic things – this syncs with the way some of the songs (those that stick out during that glance) are a bit derivative as well. However, there is a tendency for this stuff to lean way more in to bleak subject matter than most peers tend to, and the album’s structure into section titled ‘Ignorance,’ Loss,’ ‘Depression,’ and ‘Enlightenment’ encourage one to read the flow of writing as more of a linear story. When doing so, the ‘ignorances’ expressed in the Enlightenment section are especially haunting, and suggest further that some of the more questionable lines may be purposefully so…
Given that Beware of Darkness appeared about a decade after the spike in 70s intimidators, it goes to show that such spikes aren’t necessarily indicative of the only time and place when that kind of music hits: there will always be bands doing this kind of thing, and always bands doing every kind of thing. ‘Orthodox’ also shows that it doesn’t take sudden stardom to prove that an album should be considered the peak of its form: Beware of Darkness put a new, bright spin on the hard rock theme, and deliver an album that should now be a comparison point for others.