Spanish doom-metal-and-more trio Orthodox were profiled in Burning Ambulance #1, and their album Baal was reviewed here not long ago. This interview with bassist/vocalist Marco Serrato Gallardo and drummer Borja Díaz Vera was conducted via email. Enjoy!
Each of your albums has been very different from the one before—Gran Poder was the most straightforward doom metal record in your catalog, Amanecer en Puerta Oscura added horns, Sentencia was almost a jazz record, and now Baal is like garage rock. What inspired each step in your musical journey?
Borja Díaz Vera (drums): Personally I don’t see our albums so different between them, at least in the music content. We have used different instrumentation on every album (electric guitars, double bass, clarinet, trumpet, keyboards, etc.), returning to a free power trio format on Baal, but our goal has been always the same: to play the heaviest and weirdest as we can, no matter of the instrumentation. The first three albums were linked explicitly with the quest of our sound and with some concepts and visions we had at the moment; I’m referring for example about our religious and cultural environment or the use of acoustic instruments within a heavy context. Gran Poder, Amanecer en Puerta Oscura and Sentencia are like a creative continuum for us. When that trilogy was done, we didn’t know where we were, so we started to make songs…and that’s where we are right now.
The garage rock sound on Baal seems like a step backward, musically, a deliberate move toward primitivism, after the ritualistic jazz of Sentencia. Why did you choose this sound for this record?
Borja: All our albums are a chant towards primitivism, but I can understand you…After an album with almost no guitars, I suppose Baalcan be considered a very straightforward one. But for us it was also a difficult album in the sense that we have never done before an album based on songs, so, for me, Baal is very different from the others, Gran Poder included. To make the songs of the new album we didn’t start from zero, we have been playing as a unit for some years so we take the elements of our sound, trying to develop them in a song format. We take the misty heaviness of Gran Poder, the amorphous improvisation and psychedelic edge of Amanecer… and the epic and mighty vocals from Sentencia to make songs. We have done an album we can actually play live almost entirely the three of us that containts elements of our previous albums, with “standard” moments (for us), but with an experimental and personal core that permeates the whole album. Baal can be considered a step backward, but a conscious one; we have done this album knowing what we have done before. It’s the first time we have looked back to our previous efforts. I think that if this is the first album composed entirely of songs, that makes the difference. Baal, then, is another different album. To make songs for the first time in a traditional manner trying to recreate your sound isn’t the easiest thing… I suppose that Baal sounds to you like garage rock because of the production. The basic tracks are the three of us playing together, with mistakes and fucked-up moments, so it sounds raw and dark. If we were recording Baal again we would do it differently sound-wise (for example, the drums are a little low tuned and remain buried in the mix), but I think it has a certain aura, “garage” aura if you like…It reminds me a little of the A Blaze in the Northern Sky sound.
Marco Serrato Gallardo (bass/vocals): being more cynical about that, I’d say that Baal is a deliberately “Orthodox average metal album.” After three albums that were seen as suprise after surprise, we wanted to know how an average Orthodox album would be. But making this is some kind of victory for us. Why can bands like AC/DC, Motörhead or Iron Maiden make a long list of average albums? Because they have created a unique sound. And that’s what we wanted to show… Of course, it’s not as respresentative of our sound as Amanecer en Puerta Oscura, because on this one, to give that average feeling, we focused on our metal-power-trio sound. “Taurus,” for example, is an average Orthodox single. We could make one album like this every year… but we won’t, because now we know how would it be… enough, ha ha!
Why are you singing in English on this record? Are there ideas that are better communicated in English than in Spanish? And on previous records, was the use of Spanish important to the lyrical and philosophical concepts you were talking about?
Marco: I’ve been singing in English since our first album. I sing some songs or some parts in Latin and also used Spanish titles, even some Italian words too… I’d liked the idea of mixing idioms like in the motetes of the XVI Century. For us everything is said in the music. Of course we take a lot of care about the lyrics, but everything must be in the music. About my English pronunciation, I’ve never tried to improve it. I’d like to keep my Spanish accent for it. Don’t want to talk English like a guy from London or New York, I speak English like a Spaniard. We love our idiom and that’s why we use it for titles, but it doesn’t work for rock or metal. English is very easy to use because words are shorter and you can do anything you want with them. Spanish is more complex, and for us it only works well with flamenco and traditional Spanish music. And I can’t even try to sing a flamenco melody, that’s a serious thing. Of course that exotic vibe that people from some countries get is an influence of “saeta,” a kind of singing from the medieval times based in a modal monodic chant which is common in many ways with lots of music across the Mediterranean since days of old… but you can get it also in Sleep‘s Jerusalem! When I started singing in Orthodox I had in mind people like Joe Preston, Steve Austin or Scott Kelly… but Al Cisneros and Sleep’s Jerusalem gave me the key to use that way of singing in metal. It came very naturally becuase it’s very similar to some European ancient music.
Who is the group’s primary songwriter? The drums seem very important to the music—whatever the drums are doing seems to determine what everyone else will do. Is this true?
Marco: Talking about first ideas or seeds of the songs it’s mostly Ricardo [Jimenez Gómez, guitar] and me. Ricardo and I played together for a few years before Borja came in (not as Orthodox). When we met Borja the Orthodox sound came as magic. He never had a drum lesson, it’s a very strange drummer and that’s why everything we wrote sounded different when Borja introduced his part. We write our stuff knowing that he would add some crazy thing to it. So he is an essential part of our sound even if he doesn’t write the main riff.
Anyway, except for a few songs we build the songs together in the rehearsal room playing as a band…“Con sangre de quien te ofenda” was born from a Borja drum idea actually.
Why did you abandon the robes you wore on early releases?
Borja: We did it basically because it was a little dangerous onstage for us, in terms of performing. The robes fit our concept and sound very well, they are minimal and despersonalize the performer, so the audience has to be focused on the music, but when an amp is broken or you have technical problems onstage, and you don’t have roadies to help you, the solemn mood the robes create is lost. So we abandoned the robes for convenience, but it’s not an exact fact: we still use them with when we play with Israel Galván, a flamenco dancer. We play in one of his spectacles (El final de este estado de cosas), in theaters, a very controlled environment where you can concentrate on the performance and not on the many extra things involved in a show…Playing material like “Ascención” live wrapped in robes has to be living hell…
Your first two albums were released in the US by Southern Lord Records. Are there any plans to license Sentencia and Baal to a North American label?
Borja: Right now there aren’t plans to license our two last albums on a North American label (or any label). It is supposed that Alone Records has its albums distributed there via CobraSide Distribution, but I honestly don’t know if they are easy to find or cheap to buy…
Do you have any way of coming to the US for a tour, or is it too expensive and unrewarding without a US record deal?
Borja: There are no plans to go there. Like you say, without an US label behind us it’s a hard task, and we haven’t received any proper offer. It’s not the easiest thing to go there; you have to put your daily life on hold and take some risks that I don’t think we can take at this moment…The closest thing to a US tour are some dates we’re doing next May in Canada with Israel Galván.