I don’t know if there’s some cryptic message here that only truly makes sense when you’re seriously stoned, but something feels so fitting about the collaboration between The Wandering Midget and Hands of Orlac as if the two, albeit imaginary and abstract characters, might have a relationship based both on convenience and mutual advantage. Ok, enough of that – and putting aside for the moment a discussion about the whys and wherefores of lobbing in the word ‘midget’ into your band’s title – these two do actually make perfect bedfellows given their obvious love of early 1970s doom aesthetics and chunky riffs, but being from two different ends of the doom spectrum at the same time.
The Hands of Orlac is first to take centre stage with an almost quirky take on doom that infuses 60s psychedelia and early doom sounds into a hypnotic pot. Witchcraft, magic and horror of the 1970s Hammer variety (the band’s name is from a 1924 film about a hand transplant that goes predictably wrong and the book of the same title by Maurice Renard) are the order of the day led by the aptly named Sorceress – also on flute which should also be a pointer as to where Hands of Orlac are coming from. I’m tempted to put forward Blood Ceremony and Jex Thoth as pointers even though Hands of Orlac definitely has a vibe of it’s own – relying less on the often very modern, overproduced take on ‘occult’ rock / metal standards and more on a traditional late 60s early 70s sound.
The backbeat drums and chugging riffs allow her vocals to take the lead through a whirls of variation that see her mood drift from a spellbinding chant during the upbeat sections then to darkly seductive during the slower tempo sections. I liked the storytelling aspect of the band and the accompanying atmospheres made me think that a full length might be an intriguing prospect. But as the final strains of Hands of Orlac fade by way of some oddly placed outro music (think a dark, Victorian circus organ played by the Hands himself), enter The Wandering Midget.
The frequency of The Wandering Midget’s output (frontman Samuel Wormius also plays with Horna) has been worse than patchy over the past decade or so – although I was vaguely aware of the Reverend Bizarre influence before listening to this (probably one of my many mindless trawls through the internet to map things out while, like the worst kind of tourist, rarely staying long enough in any one place to really absorb anything meaningful). But I was not quite prepared for the punch that was about to be delivered. The Finns are altogether heavier doom than Hands, like a comparison between Witchcraft and Black Sabbath. The main introductory riff crashes in, immediately stealing away the limelight of this split before delivering some power-charged vocals that are some of the most perfect doom pipes I’ve heard in a while. The result is like Reverend Bizarre on steroids (Maybe Gates of Slumber or a heavier Khemmis) as The Wandering Midget tears its way through the highs and lows of an 18 minute epic. The final seven minutes, with a head-banging break that would easily be enough to get the average mosh pit into a frenzy at around the 11 minute mark, then descending into a climax worthy of any full length album – dismissing the cynics that say such split EPs are full of album leftovers.
Shame these guys have only put out two albums, the last one five years ago. But if this is anything to go by the spirit of The Wandering Midget is alive and well and let’s hope he (they) will be troubling us again sometime soon.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)