ALBUM RATING AS IT STANDS (24 reviews)
4.9 stars out of 5
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"Interesting story, excellent music and performers. Hard work pays off." 4/5 stars. Leo Mustonen, 21 May 2017 on Orkid Facebook.
"Fascinating and mystical story. Interesting and versatile music. Progressive and heavy sounds. Beautiful ballads too. Beautiful and powerful vocals. The more I listen to the album, the more I like it." 5/5 stars. Liisa Tolonen, 21 May 2017 on Orkid Facebook.
"What a brilliant, epic, magnificent rock opera! A perfect combination of beautiful ballads and powerful rock gems, all set in a truly fantastic story. Meet the Visitors from Bellatrix and you are in for a treat." 5/5 stars. Gardar Arnason, 25 June 2017 on Orkid Facebook.
From Inferno, the leading heavy-rock magazine in Finland:
Visitors from Bellatrix
It is truly perplexing to run into a release as ambitious as this, on which not even Google can offer its usual overload of information. The Facebook page for Orkid, too, has a mere hundred likes or so, although the music itself suggests a considerably more colossal production.
The content of this mammoth, put together by domestic and international forces, is advertised by the subtitle “A fantasy prog-rock opera in two acts”, an audacious characterization yet one that does not seem at all overstated once the task of listening through the work has been completed. Goodness, what on earth do we have here?
It is too difficult to capture this in a simple description, but the 16 songs and 75 minutes contain numerous references to old-school rock bands. Blue Öyster Cult, Uriah Heep, Abba, Queen, and funnily enough also Ghost come to mind here and there, albeit in an indirect and entirely appropriate manner. The music ranges from beautiful ballads to powerful heavy prog, and the melodies are exquisitely shaped throughout.
With few exceptions, a slightly unlikely figure can be found behind the songs, concept, keyboards, and even partly singing: Matti Häyry, born in 1956, works as a professor of philosophy at the Aalto University School of Business. Not your everyday character in these circles, then, but no shortage of musical vision, judging by the product.
What puzzles me further is that the end result sounds so incredibly enjoyable, coming as it does out of the blue, by musicians mostly unknown to me, with their variety of vocal approaches. The ambience is delicately old-fashioned and organic, and it is easy to see that time and effort have been put into both writing the music and executing it.
The cast also includes some more familiar names. Jan Rechberger of Amorphis is in charge of most percussions, and Corky Laing of Mountain also makes a contribution. The most surprising element of the album is Ceremony of Death, a nine-minute song written by Lee Kerslake, the long-time and now ex-drummer of Uriah Heep. On the song, he plays drums and keyboards. The slightly lingering, rock-doomy epic is not one of the best pieces on the album, but works wonderfully as a part of the whole.
The concept of the album, again, is something else altogether. Let me just say here that we are dealing with a pureblooded, grand narrative, appropriate to the prog-monster spirit of the enterprise.
Orkid is packed with controlled creative madness, as well as dedicated and loving handicraft, and its rich diversity of songs carries the massive weight of the concept effortlessly. What a fine surprise!
Inferno followed this review up with an interview:
A TOUCH OF ACADEMIC PROG-ROCK OPERA
Producing a massive concept album with a sizeable cast and independently would appear to be an insane undertaking. Visitors from Bellatrix get the job done with flying colors, as prog men and women seem to have no fear.
Text: Kari Koskinen
Matti Häyry, professor of philosophy at Aalto University, has acquired a taste of musical releases during the last few years. This 60-year old gentleman, who creates rock operas with Dr Tuija Takala, is probably not that familiar to Inferno readers, but lack of vision is not something that he can be accused of.
- If you weren’t there for the performances of the Petty Officers School band in Niinisalo or the rehearsals of the Häyry band in the corner of the Finnish Military Academy’s assembly hall in the late 1970s, your chance of knowing my talent is limited. Music has always been with me, but time went by as I had to make a living. Every now and then I wondered if I shouldn’t have made better contact with Jouni “Jonttu” Virta, a teen-age nodding friend back in Pori where I grew up, or Tommi Läntinen, who was a squad leader in my platoon in Pääskyvuori, but hey, there’s still time! Sixty is the new forty and forty is the new twenty. [For the benefit of the non-Finnish readers, Virta and Läntinen are Famous Musicians in Finland.]
Orkid: A Fantasy Prog-Rock Opera in Two Acts, a three-year labor of love by Visitors from Bellatrix, surprises pleasantly with its nuanced ambience and bold concept. The project continues in the footsteps of Perfct Child (sic), a band starred by Mountain drummer Corky Laing that released in 2013 Playing God: The Rock Opera, based on Häyry’s academic book on the ethics of genetics.
- Playing God is a project that Tuija, Tuija’s cousin Krista Jaquet, and I initiated. Corky was invited to join in to build up the rock side of things. I did not, however, feel at home in Corky’s music world, and wanted to produce an album that sounds like me.
- I’ve always been a Tolkien fan, but with the movies I’ve grown tired of the one-sidedness of the character descriptions. Elves and kings are good, dwarves are suspect, and orcs are evil and ugly. Orkid tells the story from the viewpoint of orcs. Against the canon, they are the most beautiful and brave all-female people on Earth, threatened by the lascivious male folk of elves and the upcoming and emboldened humans. Instead of a ring to be worn in a finger, they have a close ring, or communal circle, that they defend.
The story is told in the spirit of the formative decades of heavy prog.
- Uriah Heep, Blue Öyster Cult, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, ELP, Sparks, you name it and it’s there. Add to that Verdi and Puccini. And Katri Helena ja Mikko Alatalo [traditional Finnish schlager musicians]. The most conscious loans on this album are, if memory serves, from early King Crimson and Fleetwood Mac.
The list of musicians on the album is impressive, and includes some rather interesting names. Jan Rechberger, the drummer of Amorphis, plays an important role throughout, and Lee Kerslake appears on one of the tracks.
- Tuija and I met Lee in the 2009 Easy Livin’ in Salo event. He had been left alone in a table, and we offered him a glass of white wine. And then several more. A couple of years later, he attended Tuija’s birthday party and stayed with us, and that’s when we wrote Ceremony of Death. A fine musician, precise drummer, and a wonderful keyboard player to boot! The church organ in the beginning of Ceremony is so catchy that I wish I had come up with that part myself.
- There would be no Orkid without Lasse Väyrynen. He is a genious both in performing and producing music. I go to him with a raw demo – “make something out of this” – and he breathes the spirit into it. Lasse was also to thank for bringing in Jan Rechberger, as Amorphis had a rare moment of not being on world tour. Jan brought the groove and feel into the album – all the time staying with the partitur. A perplexing talent.
- The strong main male vocals are up to Phil Baker, whose singing and guitar-playing excellence are an essential element of Orkid. Phil, though, wants to emphasize that he is in this project only because he passed a very special audition, during which he had to drink in an hour a bottle of Jaloviina [Finnish brandy] and play through all the Playing God songs.
Orkid will also be performed live in Helsinki.
- For the premiere, we are thinking about a small bohemian cafeteria, where 50 people will look good, but we could go to a bigger venue, of course. There will be more musicians than on the album, and the story will be conveyed by small gestures. The theater acting will have to wait for later performances.
The story does not end here, as Orkid is the first part of a trilogy, and the second and third parts are also ready for processing.
- The trilogy is my dream and life ambition. And the Visitors from Bellatrix will continue, in one form or another, even after its completion.