One of my favorite happenings—especially in heavy music—is when you stumble across artists and releases that sound precious little like what their name would (at least at first glance) imply. Orphan, and their debut offering, Porcelain, just so happen to be an outstanding example. Born from the more aptly named and recently defunct Strangled, Orphan, at least by name, paints pictures of despair, estrangement and loneliness, while the album’s title, Porcelain is delicate, fragile and clean.
The listener’s first foray into the record, however, is anything but estranged or fragile.
Porcelain, in many ways, seems to pick up where Strangled left off—built on a foundation of chaos, aggression and primal rage. However, as Porcelain continues on, it becomes obvious that Orphan isn’t just a deliberate re-branding of a previous project, and the band and record’s title both fit more than one might think. Porcelain is a powerful release with moments that are as pristine and ornate as a ceramic sculpture and other moments that are as unpredictable and chaotic as the same statue shattered into thousands of tiny fragments. Orphan are a chimeric, dynamic and visceral act that run an entire spectrum, ranging from immolating brutality to intense and unnerving atmosphere.
From the first couple tracks, Porcelain establishes it has some of contemporary heavy music’s most punishing moments. Songs like “Dying Light” and “Mag Dump” see Orphan at their heaviest, with break-neck percussion and beefy bass steamrolling a firmament for furiously fretted leads and ten-ton breakdowns to wreak havoc atop. “Dying Light” especially highlights the band’s proclivity towards pure musical malevolence, bombarding the listener with an expansive salvo of skin-rending breakdowns divided by dense, gut wrenching grooves. This element, however, is only one portion of Orphan’s dynamic. Other songs—like “Porcelain” and “Vacant” see the band adopting a more melodic approach, with whimsical, ethereal clean guitar leads that shine over a thick, plodding kick drum and sharp, cracking snare. These songs serve as a stark contrast when juxtaposed against the band’s most aggressive moments, yet, despite the marked disparity in styles, feel just as authentic as the band’s most angry moments. What’s more is that songs like “Vacant” and even moments of “Memorandum” see the band blending the two extremes of their styles, taking ethereality and colliding it head-on with spine-shattering heaviness. The result is a profound, shocking experience that absolutely catches the listener off guard, especially considering the unyielding stampede of bitter, brutalizing power that defines the first half of Porcelain. By the time the record’s figurative Second Act starts, the emphasis on atmosphere and melancholy ethereality are as jaw dropping as the band’s bone-crushing breakdowns.
Without trying to compare the two projects too much, what Strangled became known for most—well, aside from the genre-defining sense of ruthlessness driven into their very core—was their unrelenting vocal dynamic. That same crushing cavalcade of blistering bellows and sharp, piercing screams remain prevalent on Orphan’s Porcelain—however, as one would expect with the changes in musicianship, that isn’t all the listener gets. While it is true that much of Porcelain is defined by some of the most raw, grisly and visceral vocals of the year (and maybe of the last several), Porcelain also sees some renewed vocal dynamism both in how screams are utilized, but also with the presence of smooth, serene singing. The back half of Porcelain explores the more atmospheric side of heavy music—as previously alluded to—and the band’s vocal approach mirrors this. Songs like “Memorandum” remain heavy and thoroughly oppressive, however other songs—like “Vacant”—see singing take center stage with harsh, grating screams serving as an accent. “Scars,” the record’s eerie closer, continues to see screams used in an adventurous way, setting a haunting, spine-tingling mood to close out an otherwise breakneck record. While it would be easy to continue gushing about the band’s vocal variegation, at the end of the day, Orphan’s vocal approach mirrors their instrumental intensity in an incredible way.
Porcelain is a masterful release—and this comes from someone who was, at best, a fair-weather fan of Strangled. Orphan captures all the intensity and immolating, unyielding brutality one would expect—and want—while still managing to expand on their sound and create something remarkably unique in a time where it feels like just about every stone in heavy music has been turned. Porcelain is punishing and pure all In one, pushing at the definitions and genre divisions within heavy music, and it demands attention during an otherwise jam-packed year.
For fans Of: Spite, Strangled, Bodysnatcher, Secret Keeper, VCTMS
By: Connor Welsh