Thursday, September 8, 2022

an interview with Orthodox

The Spanish doom cult that calls itself Orthodox are anything but: Eschewing traditional song structures, the trio frequently employ a variety of instruments in compositions that regularly stretch past the 10 minute mark. Their latest album Proceed was released back in June; guitarist Ricardo Jimenez Gómez was kind enough to answer my questions about the group's history and songwriting.

photo by Ana Cáceres

Dreams of Consciousness: Please introduce Orthodox - who are you, where are you from, and how would you describe your music?

Orthodox is a band from Seville, in the south of Spain, made up of 3 members: Marco (bass and vocals), Borja (drums) and myself, Ricardo (guitar), although we have had many collaborators throughout our career. It must be said that I was also out of the band for 4 years, a period in which Orthodox continued to function and publish material. We like to define ourselves as a power-trio - although it is evident, if you know our discography, that our sound and the instruments we play go far beyond what is usually understood of that concept. Still, the power trio is the foundation from which we understand Orthodox, the platform from which we build the entire sound and aesthetics of the band.

DoC: Please give a brief history of Orthodox - what led to the creation of the band, and what were your goals at the time? Do you feel you accomplished those goals - why or why not?

Marco and I played together in several bands and after certain releases by bands like Neurosis, Om, High on Fire, Sunn O))), Boris, etc., we started talking about starting a new project that would have a more experimental character where shape what for us was a widespread idea of heavy metal. We wanted to compose material where there were more experimental elements but starting from basic elements such as the riff, repetition, etc. We didn't know any drummer from our environment who could fit in the new project until Marco contacted Borja. From the first rehearsal we saw in him a lot of potential and that open mentality we were looking for to play heavy metal and being able at the same time to expand its sound including all the influences that we wanted from other styles.

Thus Orthodox was born. The musical rapport between the three of us went so well that in just over a year we already had planned what would end up being our first trilogy of albums. Those 3 albums were our way of showing the rest our vision of what heavy metal can do when you explore its limits. For us, heavy metal has always consisted of a style of music that is practically unlimited in its possibilities, and that responds very naturally to mixing with other musical aesthetics. That's what the great bands of the genre like Black Sabbath, Metallica, or Celtic Frost did at the time... taking metal where others hadn't taken it. That was the essence of the style, its orthodoxy, and that's where our name comes from: We wanted to continue with that tradition of going further, of having an unprejudiced open-mindedness. With a few albums already released since 2006, I think I can say that we have stayed true to that idea and have never looked back.

DoC: How does an Orthodox song typically start? How much of your recorded material is pre-arranged, and how much is improvised? When you improvise, how clear of an idea do you have about what direction you want the song to take?

Well, that depends on how we approach the material we want to record. Each album has had a different way of composing depending on the goals we had set for ourselves. If it is a song based on riffs, first we talk a lot about the aesthetics and the tools that we are going to use: Repetition, dissonance, minimalism, contrasts, sound, the instrumentation that we are going to use, etc. We don't take anything for granted and each album has led us in a different direction… we don't like to repeat schemes already worked on. In some songs we start from a more or less elaborate idea of guitar, bass or drums, and we begin to develop it. At this point, things can change a lot from the starting point, since the 3 of us contribute arrangements and launch ideas in a very intense way - which means that the final result can be very different from that starting point. That feeling of unpredictability is very stimulating, and has always made the end result something that none of the 3 could have done with another band. If we add to that the changes of instrumentation or the role of improvisation, all of the above is accentuated since we can do it on a predetermined scheme or in a totally free way.

DoC: How important is performing in front of an audience to you? What do you want people to experience when they come to your performances? How different are the live versions of your songs from their recorded counterparts?

Playing our material live is an important part of the band. Generally, the material is quite demanding and intense, so those who attend the concert will not find a group to have a good time with while chatting with friends while listening to music in the background. Many of our live tracks resemble the studio versions but many others have a more open and improvised nature and in that sense every show is different.

DoC: Orthodox employs a lot of unorthodox (for metal) instrumentation, such as saxophones, clarinets, horns, organs, etc. How/when do you decide to include these instruments in your compositions?

When we begin to write new material, we already know what instrumentation we are going to use in each song and then we adapt the instrumentation to the needs of the composition. The timbre is an important part for us, the mixture and interaction of instruments outside the core of the band always adds possibilities for the development of the songs, and we have had guest musicians on a good part of the albums we have recorded.

DoC: You released your latest album Proceed on June 30th. When did you start working on this album? What were your intentions for this release? How would you compare it to your previous albums?

We started working some time before the pandemic, which delayed the songwriting process, that was already slow at first because we were still deciding the direction we wanted to take now that I was back in the band. The basic idea was to return to a sound more based on riffs and guitar after a few albums where Marco and Borja tried ideas as a duo with a lot of improvisation. We wanted to bring back the sound of the first album, Gran Poder, but without repeating patterns already worked on. Marco and Borja have been involved in projects associated with free improvisation and the most extreme variants of jazz for many years, and I wanted to adapt to our sound elements from the bands that, in my opinion, are bringing the most interesting ideas to metal (such as Deathspell Omega, Portal, The Body, Sumac, Blut aus Nord…).

The songs in Proceed are very dense in terms of ideas, with many contrasts, something that distanced us from the minimalism of the first albums. Dissonance and rhythmic complexity also have a greater weight since Borja has written some drum patterns that move away from the aesthetics usually associated with the style, exploring ideas that make the songs sound experimental and far from the clichés that are usually used when focusing on a riff-based song. For me, the most important thing is that the album and the songs are not predictable, they push you to places you didn't expect and the way of playing is surprising in its final mix. All of this has been helped by the importance we have given to the way of ordering the ideas within each song, its final shape, something that is characteristic of all our music: Using form to twist the internal architecture of each composition in such a way that contrasts and attention to detail ensure that there is always something to discover after every listen.

DoC: What can you tell me about the lyrical themes of the album? What kinds of topics and subject matter inspire you? To what extent are your songs inspired by Spanish and religious folklore?

In the first albums, Mediterranean religious folklore was very present in the lyrics that Marco wrote, but there have always been very varied interests in terms of topics. In Proceed, as can be seen from the cover itself, those topics are different now, although the shadow of the old and pagan has not completely disappeared. Marco's way of writing always mixes extra-musical references with personal experiences and on the album his lyrics are as varied as the songs. On an aesthetic level, we wanted to pay homage to those bands from the Eighties and Nineties that we grew up with, and that also happens with the lyrics, since they can be understood from different perspectives.

DoC: Billy Anderson flew to Seville to record/engineer this album. Why was it important for you to work with Billy? Of the albums he's recorded/engineered in the past, which would you say had the biggest impact on your music?

When the songs composition for Proceed were advanced, we saw that it would be a good opportunity to have someone outside of the three of us giving his opinion on the music, arrangements, sound, etc. We started thinking about who would be the right person and only one name came to mind: Billy Anderson. He recorded many of the bands that have most influenced us as musicians (Neurosis, Sleep, High on Fire, Om, The Melvins, etc.) and we love the sound he achieves in the studio. So we checked with Alone Records and they told us it was financially viable. After that, we recorded a demo and sent it to them. Billy Anderson had already been interested in us a few years ago, when we released our second album (Amanecer en Puerta Oscura, 2007) and he was very enthusiastic when he heard the new material so he joined the project. From then on, it was all a matter of balancing schedules and logistics.

Seeing one of your idols work on your music, continually coming up with ideas, headbanging, etc., was priceless.

Of all the albums he has recorded, the most influential for us have been the first two albums by High on Fire and Om, Eyehategod's Dopesick, Sleep's Dopesmoker, obviously, and everything he recorded with The Melvins... although to me personally, the album that has impacted me the most as a musician has been Through Silver in Blood by Neurosis. Billy Anderson's work there is spectacular, the way that everything sounds really powerful but at the same time the different layers breathe and flow with a lot of dynamics. It is really impressive work.

DoC: The label releasing Proceed, Alone Records, has worked with Orthodox since your first album, and released most of your discography in one form or another. How would you describe your relationship with the label? What has led to you having such a long-lasting relationship with them?

We have known Miguel and Lola from Alone Records for a long time and we have always had a very good relationship. They live in Malaga, near Seville, so we see each other often and that helps keep in touch. From the beginning their support for Orthodox was unconditional and we are very grateful for all their time and resources invested in the band, especially in this last album where they have been deeply involved so that the final result was very close to what we wanted achieve, highlighting all his effort so that Billy Anderson could come to record the album.

photo by Ana Cáceres

DoC: What's next for you?

We are closing dates to present the album both inside and outside of Spain and trying some festivals. In the meantime, you can purchase the album on the Alone Records Bandcamp page. The next thing will be to start writing new material soon and see how we approach that new step.

Orthodox on Facebook

Orthodox on Bandcamp

Orthodox on IG

Proceed on Alone Records Bandcamp

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