For a band who have built a reputation predominantly on the back of their live shows, it is curious that Black Orchid Empire seem to be going full steam ahead with a powerful new release in the middle of a global pandemic. However, from the opening of debut track 'Singularity', Semaphore is an album that certainly captures both the ears and imaginations. From the strong musicality of the band members, to lyrics verging between abstract and dystopia, this new release sees Black Orchid Empire cement themselves as a group of able studio artists to complement their existing reputation.
The band describe themselves as producing “heavy-hitting savagery with intense melodic beauty”, and that is a description that seems all too apt throughout Semaphore. The guitar riffs are heavy yet progressive, and there is a distinctly original sound about the song-writing throughout the first act of the album that captures a listener without sounding too much like any other existing album from the trio. In particular, 'Singularity' and 'Natural Selection' are two songs that immediately stand out on a first listen through the album. It seems bizarre, in a listen through the first few songs of the album, that Black Orchid Empire seem to be regularly compared to modern day Biffy Clyro. If anything, it would be more apt to put this record in the region of some of some grounded, yet progressively thunderous releases from artists like VOLA, Toothgrinder, Good Tiger and at times, even Tesseract.
The mood does drop midway through the album, however. The album takes a midpoint break with 'Heliopause' to open up 'Winter Keeps Us Warm', a wavering attempt at arena-rock that's reminiscent of a pop-rock dirge; entirely out of place after what we previously heard. However, thankfully, this proves to be the only weak track of the album, as the band go straight back to what they do best by the behemoth heft and melodies of 'Faces' – another definite highlight.
Alongside the strong riffage from the strings, a note should be made about the album’s vocal delivery. It’s an interesting range that vocalist Paul Visser seems to have, flirting throughout the album between pop-rock and heavy-prog in a way that’s reminiscent of Daniel Gildenlow of Pain of Salvation and even Dave McPherson of InMe. It is a voice perfectly suited to progressive rock, making the lyrics blend well with the music, however.
It does seem strange that the album’s leading track (labelled not-a-single in the band’s official statement), 'Evergreen', comes as the third song from the end of the album instead of earlier on, but the wait is well worth it. It’s a strong track with a powerful political theme behind it that masquerades as sci-fi. However, it’s an even more memorable track when paired with the music video.
The possibilities of in which direction the band will take the song in future live performances seem endless on repeated listens; especially for a band with such a strong live reputation riding the wave of an album that is this enjoyable to listen to, it seems that Black Orchid Empire are definitely a name to look out for on festival posters when they (hopefully) resume in 2021.