Orphan Donor – Unraveled Review

Sometimes, the promo sump can be an overwhelming place. A bit like an oversized car trunk sale, there’s a huge amount of scary junk that you know you don’t want (but recognize you’ll end up leaving with at least some of) and a few frustratingly well hidden gems. The trick is how to spot those gems. Sometimes though, one simply does not have the time and you have to trust your luck and grab the first thing that catches your eye. One such visit led me to the sophomore outing by Allentown, Pennsylvania-based two piece Orphan Donor, which spoke to me because of the combination of a grindcore tag and the unexpected accompanying note that it would appeal to fans of Isis. Intrigued, I grabbed it and ran, but had I made off with a rare gem or just another piece of unwanted junk?

The follow up to 2020’s Old Patterns, and adorned with similarly garish artwork1, Unraveled is not the punchy 18 minutes I expect from grind (try doubling that) and is for fans of Isis in so far as both bands make metal and, if you like one metal band, there’s every chance you might like another. The brainchild of Secret Cutter drummer Jared Stimpfl, who performs everything except vocals, Orphan Donor plays a chaotically demented form of dissonant grind and mathcore, with heavy dollops of screamo on the side. All discordant guitars, bursts of feedback, unexpected groovy bass lines and frantic drums, Unraveled’s unhinged fury borrows from the likes of Meth. and As the Sun Sets. The vocals, handled by Chris Pandolfo of Clouds Collide, are throat shreddingly harsh, falling somewhere between the screamo of early Bring Me the Horizon (particularly on “Unraveling”) and the hardcore assault of Converge’s Jacob Bannon. There are occasional moments, like on “Forever Unseen,” when the tempest briefly abates and clean, dirgey vocals are double-tracked with the harsh but, for the most part, Pandolfo is a man possessed.

Across Unraveled, there’s a sense of barely held together sanity slowly slipping away. Constantly shifting tempos and explosions of unrestrained fury hit you from out of nowhere, giving the listener nothing to cling to and no sense of time or direction. If you’ve ever been surfing and ended up in the washing machine-like maelstrom below a big breaker, you’ve got some idea of the chaotic soundscapes Orphan Donor is generating. As the record progresses, occasional islands in the storm make themselves known, like the gradually rising calm on “My Friend, the Hornet” and the skirling two-note melody that plays around it, or the heavily fuzzed bass and seesawing static that come to the fore on “Unraveling.”

It’s only when closing track “Celestial Mourning” descends into post-metal feedback and static for the last six of its 11-minute run (I suppose one could make a comparison to Isis’ Celestial but it’s a push and not reflective of the record as a whole) that you sense the Orphan Donor storm has really blown itself out. It’s like standing in the gloomy drizzle, looking out over the devastation left by the main event. As for the rest of Unraveled, it conveys a sense of someone coming – or being violently pulled – apart at the seams. At times, such is the tumult, that it’s hard to find any through current to follow and use to make sense of the disorder. Of course, that desperate absence of cohesion is sort of the point but it makes Unraveled a challenging listen, lacking in flow and very much a record I had to be in the mood for. Produced by Stimpfl himself, Orphan Donor’s sound is as harsh and jagged as the songwriting, with little sympathy for the listener. On the whole this works but, particularly when Unraveled hits its most demented moments, it feels a bit crushed, and could do with more breathing room for the composite parts.

Ironically, I’ve struggled a bit to order my thoughts on Unraveled and there is no doubt Orphan Donor has grown on me with time. The first couple of times I put it on, I simply turned it off again, vowing to try again when I was in a different mood. So far, it’s sat best with me while actually writing this review, as some of the moments of calm have hit me, where on previous listens I’d simply found its abrasive sound jarringly off-putting. On balance, I think Unraveled has much to commend it but the pacing of the record ultimately holds it back. Had the back end of “Celestial Mourning” come at the midway point, for example, that breathing space would have made the whole that much more compelling.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Zegema Beach Records
Websites: orphandonor.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/OrphanDonor
Releases Worldwide: June 11th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Both covers are the product of artist and designer James Ravelle.
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