Dark Orchid's album, Kali Yuga, is truly the anthem of youth depression; brooding, intense, something to listen to alone in the dark while contemplating if life still has meaning. This is purely dramatic, dark emotive rock for the 21st century, a combination of the emo-type music played on popular rock and alternative radio stations and the medieval-influenced gothic sounds of your local Renaissance Festival.
omprised of members Tonja Nolan (vocals and bass), Joshua Ogzewalla (guitar), Taj Yelton (drums, backing vocals) and Kevin Nolan (guitar), this Colorado-based quartet has acquired a large underground, cult-like following from their appearances at The Colorado Dark Arts Festival and OpusFest (a fantasy arts gathering, also held in Colorado). And it's no wonder why: with their sad lyrics and intense, uniquely eclectic instrumentation, their fanbase should be able to spread far beyond the Rockies.
The most amazing thing about Dark Orchid is the synergy of their instrumentation. This is truly a band who can play together, as each instrument feeds off of the other in a dark, dramatic harmony. The guitars swirl and captivate, the bass is enchanting, the drumming is emotive. Everything fits together and meshes into a perfect blend of intensity; everything, that is, except for the vocals.
That is not to say that Tonja Nolan is a horrid vocalist she is not. The problem lies within the tone of her voice, which is too folksy and flat, and absolutely does not fit the type of music that Dark Orchid is so proud of making. Furthermore, each word she sings is severely over pronounced, giving the listener the feeling that she is trying entirely too hard. There is no indication that Nolan even enjoys singing whatsoever in any of her songs, which, at many points in their CD, takes away from the high quality of musicianship the instrumentation provides.
The fourth track on Kali Yuga, entitled Painter, is a wonderful example of the discord between vocals and instrumentation. Painter begins with an intriguing and enchanted-sounding blend of the guitars, bass and drums, but once the vocals begin the song loses its enchantment. The vocals are flat, dull and droning and take away from what could have been a beautiful piece of music.
Fragile, the sixth track, is the same way as the aforementioned song. The opening, consisting of rapidly and intensely played guitars reminiscent of Rush, is a rock musician's dream. However then the vocals start, taking away from the carnal feel of the instrumentation. And, sadly, the more heavy and rock-esque Tonja Nolan tries to sing, the worse the collaboration sounds as her voice is flat and without the inflection necessary to carry the lead in such an emotive song.
Track eight, entitled These Days, is almost an exception to the dissonance between vocals and instrumentation. Once again, the introduction of the song, which is guitar only, is spectacular, dropping from major to minor key within the first four bars and then recirculating back to the original major key one bar later. And Nolan's voice is almost believable and fitting for the song, as she breaks away from her folk-sounding style. However, the last minute of this piece changes everything. Nolan begins to sing higher and as the notes rise, her voice can not rise to match them. The vocals are screaming and off-key as she tries too hard to hit notes which are well out of her range. Had this song not included the last minute of vocals, it would have been a defining piece of music for Dark Orchid, something which could have shown an exceptional collaboration of all instruments, vocals, and lyrics.
There is no doubt that Dark Orchid is a highly talented group with a lot to offer to the music community and I look forward to hearing new samples of their work in the coming years. However, if they could work on allowing the vocals to fit the intensity and emotion contained within the instrumentation, the overall quality of their music would vastly improve. If they were a group without vocals, I could easily say that they were one of the most talented and darkly emotive bands I have ever heard. Regardless, with a brooding sense of melancholy and meaning, Dark Orchid should be a long-lasting band in the underground goth-rock scene.
Post: Gestalt Records, 3600 Osage St., Denver, CO, 80221, USA