Soothsayer Orchestra – The Last Black Flower Review

I have a great admiration for the solo creator. Thanks to my attention deficiency disorder, the two tasks I struggle most with are staying motivated and staying organized. The kind of dedication it takes to perform every part of what is ordinarily a team effort seems Herculean to me. Pieter Hendriks1 (Black Bottle Riot, Born From Pain) has that kind of dedication, though, as The Last Black Flower is his second album as Soothsayer Orchestra, a mere 2 years after the self-titled debut. But does dedication equal quality?

One thing Soothsayer Orchestra has in spades is inspiration. The range of genres and moods spanned by The Last Black Flower is nothing short of vast, especially considering its scant half-hour of running time. Opener “Celestial Virtues” is a jangling, drum-heavy piece of country-flavored progressive rock, but follow-up “The Bonedigger’s Blues” has more in common with the guitar-driven deep south doom of Goatsnake. “Galaxy Gazing for Supernovas” turns off the gravity with the most ethereal of Nick Cave-isms, only for “Kissed by a Tyrant” to crash back to Earth and deep into the dirt, delivering a creeping crawl through the underbrush, sporting a significant Swans influence mixed with both Nine Inch Nails and Peaceville-style doom. Though some of these styles and influences do recur, there are still further outliers down the road, especially “Black Dust” which swerves deep into ambient industrial noise territory.

Diversity in songwriting is a great thing, but it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the Frankensteinian monster from coming apart at the seams. Hendriks manages a kind of compromise, where the album doesn’t dissolve into an entirely random collection of unrelated pieces, but does retain a rather anthological perspective. The uniting factors are Hendriks’ gravelly drawl, often layered multiple times or squeezed through filters or various sorts, and the overarching influence of American folk music. Combined with the encroaching electronics that worm their way into the compositions invokes imagery of post-apocalyptic survivors jamming raw blues on half-destroyed found instruments, and that is the atmosphere that holds the album together, even if the songs seem to drift apart.

Not all of the individual compositions work perfectly, per se. “Black Dust,” for all its creepy-crawly soundscapes, is largely aimless, and “Everlasting Wings” leans on its narration more than it ought to. Closer “The Shadow” is the only track I’d call repetitive, its chorus taking up too much of its total space, and it ends rather abruptly, and the album with it. Between that and the whiplash that occurs between some of the other tracks, I wonder whether a tweaking of the track order could have improved The Last Black Flower’s flow. And yet, overall, I find the album infallibly engaging. The vibe is rather unique, the way it blends blues and noise, and Hendriks’ voice is rough in texture but brims with style and personality. Furthermore, the production has hit the sweet spot between clarity and grime, quite a feat considering there’re plenty of competing layers to the more atmospheric tracks.

The promo sheet said that ‘[the album] takes the listener on a musically dynamic journey through Hendriks his mind.’ Rarely are these sheets this on point. The Last Black Flower jumps from one genre to the next. It’s a strange, sometimes uneven and often unnerving album. But it’s also not quite like anything else I’ve heard in a long time, and that’s the kind of idiosyncrasy that I look for in solo creators. Soothsayer Orchestra has its flaws, but it’s an engaging and highly original trip. If you’re looking for something on the fringes, I suggest you take it.2

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Lay Bare Recordings
Releases Worldwide: February 4th, 2023

Show 2 footnotes

  1. This might be the Dutchest name I have ever read.
  2. Addendum: after finishing this review, I found out that this is a re-release backed by a label, and the album was originally released last June. Additionally, the original release has 2 extra tracks compared to the promo. So that’s egg on my face, but Soothsayer Orchestra definitely deserves the attention, belated as it may be. C’est la vie.
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