London-based three-piece Black Orchid Empire have unleashed their second full-length album Yugen, following on from their promising 2016 debut, Archetype. On Archetype, they presented fairly straightforward rock songs full of big hooks and choruses. This time around they’ve honed their craft to create a slightly meaner, harder, more technical sound.
Yugen is crammed full of hard-hitting but radio-friendly songs, such as the jet-fuelled opener ‘My Favourite Stranger’ and the thundering ‘Blacklight Shadow’. Tracks like these put Black Orchid Empire on track to follow in the footsteps of bands like Foo Fighters and Biffy Clyro, albeit with chunkier riffs. Speaking of riffs, there’s no shortage of these on the record. Though probably not the most technical you’ll ever hear, the boys have definitely stepped their game up from the previous record in this regard. ‘Burn’, ‘Mouth of the Wolf’ and ‘Toru’s Maze’ being particular highlights.
There is a softer side to Black Orchid Empire however, as demonstrated on the sombre, acoustic ‘Vertigo’ which begs to be played in an arena full of lighters held aloft. The final track, ‘Years’ also begins as an understated piano ballad but soon erupts into a mash-up of various different songs from the album. This is a rather unique way to end the record, though it makes ‘Years’ feel like more of a highlights reel or bonus feature than a proper album closer.
In a world full of bland and formulaic music, bands like Black Orchid Empire (along with contemporaries such as Press to MECO and Bad Sign) are a breath of fresh air, showing that music can be heavy and technical while also being catchy and accessible. Yugen is a fine contribution to this cause, and ensures that Black Orchid Empire are ones to watch in the near future of British rock music.