What happens if you take an aging hardcore kid and stick him in a caravan in the middle of Germany on his own to write an album? Well apparently, you get Soothsayer Orchestra, the solo venture of Pieter Hendriks, former drummer from the likes of Born From Pain and Reaching Forward. Though for the purposes of context here, you might always want to take heed of the fact Mr. Hendriks has also moonlighted in a Johnny Cash tribute band, which seems like a clearer starting point for this solo work.
A dark but engaging set of tunes with dust under their boots and southern gothic inflections that you might not expect from a Dutch, the forsaking of ‘the mosh’ for a more mysterious campfire rock approach, seems to have been a fruitful step. Rise Gomorrah Rise establishes the storyteller feel straight off, like the opening credits of an epic movie, before Black Velvet Deathbed really gets its’ fangs out with a marriage of unexpected bludgeon and dustbowl shuffle. It’s this song that really sets out the stall for Soothsayer Orchestra being more than some adopted persona, and more an organic melding of disparate elements, like switching radio stations between Neurosis and Calexico.
Hendriks manages deftly to balance tension and mischief throughout the album. A track like Heaven Seeker takes full of that strangely comforting timbre that an acoustic guitar has, and uses it as the groundwork for a sort of chain gang nightmare, you can feel the sense of trudge in the slow insistent tempo. It’s a sort of apocalyptic blues that’s at the core of the sound, but Hendriks expertly never surrenders to the void entirely, never gets too bogged down in the darkness. The Rooster Calls sees the sonic gunslinger shake his hips with some nice garagey punk stabs thrown in to liven up the gloom. This is, after all, a rock ‘n’ roll album at its core and that southern gothic I mentioned can occasionally veer more towards the Back From The Grave compilation, rather than the dark country sonics.
a marriage of unexpected bludgeon and dustbowl shuffle…
Sure, the imagery and the lyrics feel a little bit… well… contrived at times. You kind of wish he’d leave the prophet of doom act to Dwid Integrity, and maybe get a little wider in scope lyrically than the pseudo biblical noirism, but I guess it comes with the territory musically. And hey, no one ever said a musician has to notate their day to day life for something to connect with a listener right?
Amid The Coiling Snakes brings the drama to a slow boiling climax, going out with a blend of eastern melody and spaghetti western theatrics that’s deeply satisfying, like a campfire retelling of some gunslinger rising from the grave for revenge. And when it’s all over, you’re struck by the fact that you’ve been on an adventure for the last forty or so minutes, one you’ll want to take again.
Living proof that music can be downbeat without sacrificing excitement, a dark, bluesy roots rock album for the macabre of mind and impious of tastes. Let’s hope Hendriks isolates himself in that caravan again as soon as possible and serves us up another slice of this particular pie swiftly.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes