Orange Goblin

Healing Through Fire

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Ah, what to make of Orange Goblin -- a band that's almost always produced good, sometimes great, but rarely categorically excellent music over the course of a decade and five CDs, which saw them slowly transition away from the fading stoner/doom movement that originally inspired them before reaching something of a creative impasse on 2004's Thieving from the House of God. If anything, that album's more traditional but also less distinctive brand of heavy rock and metal was largely offset by the upside that was guitarist Joe Hoare's successful handling of all six-string duties, following the departure of co-founding guitarist Pete O'Mally. But its long awaited successor, Healing Through Fire, has no such excuse for not delivering the goods -- especially after marinating for a whole three years. Here, once again, Orange Goblin appear committed to treading the heavy metal middle ground, yet listeners may still spot a few subliminal signs of stoner rock hiding just beneath the surface of tracks like "Hot Knives and Open Sores" (featuring an inverted Trouble riff) and epic closer "Beginner's Guide to Suicide" -- not to mention vocalist Ben Ward flirting with a low-slung growl, reminiscent of Clutch's Neil Fallon on occasion. But with the possible exception of uniquely memorable opener "The Ballad of Solomon Eagle" and the also stoner-reminiscent "Cities of Frost," typical new efforts like "The Ale House Braves," "Hounds Ditch," and "They Come Back" mostly just sound belabored, stunted, even mediocre, before second-half thrash-outs manage to break them out of their dispiriting rut. OK, so the aforementioned Hoare once again deserves credit for his one-man power chord tour de force, plus surprising forays into acoustic classicism ("Mortlake (Dead Water)") and twangy swamp blues ("Beginner's Guide to Suicide" again), but in most other respects, Healing Through Fire only illustrates Orange Goblin's "always good, sometimes great, rarely excellent" dilemma. Who else wants to bet that their next album will mark a full-scale return to stoner rock? [Special editions of Healing Through Fire also boast a bonus DVD containing about 30 minutes of mostly unimpressive live performance, recorded at London's Mean Fiddler, with brief but amusing studio and interview footage interspersed among the ten tracks.]

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