Review: Orphan Donor ‘Unraveled’

Remember when music was old school and cut through with self-depreciating, vicious humour that made fun of society and never took itself too seriously? Maybe I’m getting old, but I used to love the DIY punk ethos where it could all fall apart tomorrow, and this permeated through to the name and spirit of the band. As such Orphan Donor reminded me of this which is what initially drew me to the promo. However, this may be where the reasonable comparison ends.

Orphan Donor ‘Unraveled’

The reality of Unraveled, the second record under the Orphan Donor banner by Secret Cutter drummer Jared Stimplfi is a bruising, battering melting pot of turn of the century metal, grind, math and a kitchen sink’s worth of savagery to soundtrack a discourse on the human psyche. Or rather the unravelling of it if you were.

Very much a DIY affair, Stimpfl plays all the instruments as well as handling the desk duties for recording, mixing and producing with the only nod to the outside world being the addition of friend Chris Pandolfo of Cloud Collide, who delivers the howls of vocal anguish that guide the listener on this discordant journey into the depths of a breaking mind.

This breaking mind takes about 3 seconds to kick in as Pendulum Grip’s guitar turns into a concussion inducing screamo assault that makes scene stalwarts like Poison The Well seem positively linear and tame. Described in their press release as a ’tsunami of anger’ this is chaos writ large. In four minutes, Orphan Donor stagger through a myriad of styles and sounds that can recall the off the wall stylistic fragmentation of The Dillinger Escape plan as angular sounds collide in a tortured howl.

Death Exploit continues this harrowing style. The more simplistic arrangement is no more comfortable with the clanking, clanging, hammering style invading your conscious mind and refusing to settle into a place of comfort. Musically a picture of this album can be found in the dictionary next to the word ‘cacophony’. It is jarring and unsettling, relentless and furious, and at times I sat listening to this album openly wincing and wondering what in the hell was I going to write as I could barely get my (unravelling) thoughts in order.

Track three, Forever Unseen, however almost settles down into a more palatable pattern. When I say palatable, I’m talking in terms of structure. It is of course a massive wall of extreme noise that recalls the huge, smashing sounds of bands like Will Haven or Bloodlet and Unraveling itself recalls the troubling percussive barrage of bands like Indian. How Stimpfl managed to put these songs together on the drums is beyond me as they never settle into one groove for long, before morphing into something else equally relentless.

Once you allow your brain to push past the initial shock, you pick up on all kinds of instrumental inflections as the guitar also never settles, whether it’s frenetic tremolo, angular riffing or even in rare moments of calm, tender picked notes that seem like blessed relief. The sheer scope of what is going on in this album is often utterly overwhelming. Which I guess is the point.

Unraveled was one of the more intense things I’ve heard in a long time, to the point where it’s hard to offer any straight musical comparison…

There are times that I was reminded of Today Is The Day’s earlier works, where Austin seemed on a mission just to fuck with the listener and deliberately set them on edge, taking you to the brink of madness. You Were Alive, for example, achieves this by fooling you into thinking it’s one of the more straight forward moments, but at every one of the musical interludes Orphan Donor turn the screw and shift the track off into further reaches of madness.

Throughout the course of the album Pandolfo bellows with all the conviction of a man who is truly losing his mind. At times in your face, snarling and shrieking and others more like a subconscious gnawing at the back of your mind, like a scratching unsettling thought you can’t get rid of. Whatever he is saying lyrically, and at times there was so much going on that the vocals were just literally another sound variant, it’s the sheer embodiment of desperation and frustration to which there is no respite.

Ending on the scattergun like Celestial Mourning, Orphan Donor almost collapse over the line with an eleven minute opus that could almost be a reprise of every style thrown at the wall in the six tracks that have preceded. It’s a massive closing statement where epic moments of post-metal meeting savage grindcore and the kitchen sink in between.

I’m someone who spends a lot of time listening to music at the more extreme end of the spectrum, but for me Unraveled was one of the more intense things I’ve heard in a long time, to the point where it’s hard to offer any straight musical comparison, or put into perspective on the first listen I was left with a headache and a feeling of confusion.

Viewing this as a piece of art, a comment on pain, isolation and going crazy in a world that often feels like it doesn’t care or understand, then Orphan Donor make a lot of sense. It’s the perfect embodiment of a scream into the void that teeters on the brink of insanity, scratch that, it’s the full on soundtrack to that scream mentally breaking.

Sometimes you just have to admit that something isn’t for you, and I think this is probably the first thing in a while that’s crossed my personal Rubicon. I’m not saying it isn’t very well done, the sheer amount of tempo changes and styles employed in Unraveled is jaw dropping, but I was incredibly grateful that the last ringing notes of this album were muted and almost tranquil after everything that had gone before.

Label: Zegema Beach Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden