Heavy Metal has seen glory and disgrace in its 40-odd years of existence. Despite being read last rites a few times in recent history, artists with the right mix of tradition and innovation have kept the torch burning.
Seven Orchids is one of these bands that remind you why there are still legions of fiercely loyal metalheads. Their music pays homage to many facets of the genre, and their conviction shines through every riff and lyric.
I'm in the basement of Sudsy Malone's with the rowdy quintet, and the bottom of the first bottle of Jack Daniel's is quickly approaching.
"You can't piss on the floor, we're having our CD release party here," one says to another a few seconds too late. Things will get louder and more physical later, but for the moment, honesty is prevailing.
"We're not tough guys or Satan worshippers, we're just dudes that drink whiskey and play Metal," admits singer Mo Rikle, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, seeing seminal Thrash bands like Testament, Exodus and Violence play at parties. "We try to provide an atmosphere where people can have a good time."
Just a few years ago, Seven Orchids' music might have been dismissed by most as "too heavy," but with Post Hardcore and Stoner Rock gaining wider audiences, this sentiment is evaporating.
Instead, their combination of rapid-fire drumming, lightning guitar gallops and menacing barks is actually pretty accessible by today's standards. The sound recalls early Speed Metal kings with visceral, aggro vocals.
"We're kind of like a Southern Rock Metal band," explains guitarist Alex O'Connor. "There's riffs and melody, not just screaming and endless breakdowns." Although O'Connor is a seasoned shredder and has been teaching guitar for several years, this is actually his first band, and his neo-classical leads are a key component.
In Seven Orchids' short two-year existence, guitarists have come and gone, or in Giev Fowler's case, gone and come. The 19-year-old was the original guitarist for the band (Rikle saw him playing at The Void at 14 and was amazed with his talent and presence, vowing to recruit him eventually) but bowed out for some time. Defying the age gap, his style dovetails perfectly with the rest of the band, despite some questionable childhood influences.
"I hate to say it, but at first it was all Korn and Slipknot," Fowler admits, eliciting groans from his older band mates. "Come on, it was sixth grade! After that I started getting into some of the newer Metal like Darkest Hour."
Drummer Bill Pfaff had even less direction. "I didn't have any older siblings to borrow CDs from," he says. "I played percussion in school; finally one guy brought in a Pantera album, and I knew that was the kind of music I wanted to play." Pfaff then encouraged his friend Kevin McNair to pick up bass, beginning a chemistry that now provides the bedrock foundation for the band.
"I'm probably the biggest hack, I'm the cheerleader," jokes McNair. "We've constantly got side projects going, because we're into all kinds of stuff, from old-school Punk to Noisecore bands, but Bill and I have talked about starting a serious Metal band forever, and this is the most fun I've ever had ... playing with a bunch of people that think they're awesome."
This prod provokes laughter, but Rikle adds, "We're not egomaniacs, but we're all confident. You have to be. Anybody can tell when a band is struggling on stage."
The public will be able to make up their own minds when Seven Orchids releases their debut, Raising Hell in Whiskey Heaven, this Saturday. One of O'Connor's fellow music teachers, John Keller, recorded the disc at J5 Sound Studio and also assisted the band in getting over a few technical humps. Now that they have a respectable calling card, the band is planning to hit the road, taking their fraternal funhouse approach along.
"We're the kind of dudes that are going to hang out until the last band plays and have a shot with you," proclaims McNair. "Hell, I'll even crash at your house."
SEVEN ORCHIDS (myspace.com/sevenorchids) host a CD release party Saturday at Sudsy Malone's.