Orcrypt was a new name to me in 2020, but with an album called “Balrog & Roll,” the band did not remain a mystery for long. Plenty of Tolkien/Fantasy fans here at The Metal Wanderlust, Jonah M. being particularly well-versed in such things. Upon sharing the album with him, Jonah and I decided to team up for this review, which only became more interesting when Orcrypt agreed to answer questions for an interview. It has been quite a journey, to put it mildly.
Orcrypt’s music is gritty, dark, loud, and fun as hell. Their first album, “Mercenaries of Mordor” (2015), leans a bit farther in the Black Metal direction than “Balrog & Roll,” which isn’t to say that sound disappears entirely. On the contrary, it is expanded upon, and to great effect.
For “Balrog & Roll,” Ugluk, player of war drums, four-string goblin bow, and original Orcrypt dungeon master, has recruited two new fiendish friends to aid him on Orcrypt’s new adventure. Sammael’s sharp, low-slung six-string Orken Bouzouki attack, and J.R.R. Martin’s flesh-ripping growl, combined with Ugluk’s aforementioned talents, sounds something a bit like Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, and Carpathian Forest met at some pub in Middle Earth, got drunk as fuck and decided to start a fistfight with Venom and Immortal.
Each song is like an epic battle. From “Beholder” to “Greenskins of Greyhawk,” the clash of swords, the shattering of shields and the sounds of Orcish war horns can be felt. All of this is, of course, played with the passion that comes from being a fan. If you’re looking for a fun, dark, grungy band with a nice black metal vibe then Orcrypt’s “Balrog & Roll” is an absolutely stellar choice.
We spent a great deal of time with this album, and each listen took our writing in a different direction. At the end of the day, seeing as how the band was so open in answering our questions, we figured we would just let them do the majority of the talking here. After all, who better to tell you what Orcrypt is all about than Orcrypt?
“Balrog & Roll” is an excellent record with lyrical themes so rich you’ll be in Fantasy heaven the entire time! With that, please enjoy the following interview.
Jonah M: 5/5
“We just wanted to give the monsters a say.”
J.R.R. Martin – Vocals
Sammael – Guitars
Ugluk – Drums, bass, keys
VUK: Hails, guys! Thank you for taking some time to chat with us. We’re really loving your album over here at The Metal Wanderlust. In fact, there was some discussion about “Balrog & Roll” being the greatest album title of 2020.
Jonah M: Hey guys! I thought I’d tag along with VUK on this, because I love the album as well, and I’m also a huge fan of Tolkien and D&D! Thanks for answering our questions, man!
VUK: A quick read through the lyrics from your first album, it struck me how cool it was to get the perspective of Sauron, or more specifically the army of Saruman. Almost like an alternative history of Middle Earth where the “bad” guys are the heroes. I pictured Orcs in a crypt making the music for fellow inmates. Do you see yourselves as the tellers of an alternative history within the mythology of stories like Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons?
ORCRYPT: Interesting question! We probably wouldn’t use the term “alternate history,” as that has connotations, particularly in literature of “alternate timelines” where things ‘didn’t happen that way, they happened this way.’ We certainly weren’t trying to contradict Tolkien in any way. But maybe “alternate perspective” would be more appropriate, similar to how Kirill Eskov explored the lives of the orcs in Mordor after the fall of Sauron in his controversial “The Last Ringbearer.” As for the new album, storytelling in the lyrics was certainly a deliberate choice made by J.R.R. MARTIN, Dungeons & Dragons is at its core, behind all the applied mathematics, an exploration of interactive storytelling. We just wanted to give the monsters a say.
VUK: After that really cool Dungeon Synth intro, “The Beholder” just rips right into your flesh like an acid dipped spear! It very much feels like we’re entering the cavern you’re singing about, and there is a lurking terror present.
Jonah M: That’s a Beholder! A terrifying motherfucker! A giant eye with stalks containing more eyes. Shoots eye rays that can kill anyone. Seems like the perfect start to a brutal adventure. Did that factor into “The Beholder” being the first song (with lyrics) on the album?
ORCRYPT: That is but one of a few reasons, actually. “The Beholder” was the first song we completed for the “Dice & Damnation” demo, and it really set the tone for the rest of the songs that followed (except possibly “Dice & Damnation” itself). When J.R.R. MARTIN first heard the demo track, and that opening “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath style riff, that opening line by Ozzy, “What is this that stands before me?” sprang to mind, and the idea of the Dungeon Master telling the player what they see, just slid into place. So, what do they see? A fucking Beholder of course! The most Dungeons & Dragons monster in all of Dungeons & Dragons! Beyond that though, despite each of us having our favourites on the album for different reasons, “The Beholder” was one that all three of us consistently liked from the very beginning.
Jonah M: I noticed that all of the songs were about Dungeons & Dragons except “Vermintide,” which references the Great Horned Rat from the Warhammer games. My question is what other fantasy related subjects influence the band?
ORCRYPT: Without being too coy, our lyrical inspirations are not subtle or particularly hidden. For “Balrog & Roll” we started focusing on table-top gaming in general. “Vermintide” was the second song completed for the album, over time that focus narrowed to primarily Dungeons & Dragons. Let us just say, we have other worlds we wish to explore, other realms to conquer in time.
VUK: So many creatures! Warlocks, queens, dragons, orcs (obviously), and tons more… ALL of which fit perfectly into Orcrypt’s musical aesthetic. It’s a dangerous sound with a bad ass swagger, also mixing in a shit ton of old school Black Metal influences like Venom, Darkthrone, some early Bathory, and Mayhem. With that in mind, “Balrog & Roll” features a bit of a fuller sound than “Mercenaries of Mordor” overall, I think. I suspect this is partially due to the changes in lineup (that being Sammael as the sole guitarist, and J.R.R. taking over vocal duties). But you’re clearly in the same realm lyrically. What can you tell us about the specific changes Sammael and J.R.R. brought to the project?
ORCRYPT: SAMMAEL brings a versatility and ferocious energy to his riffs that imbue the songs with a strong driving momentum that walks the line between old school black metal and classic heavy metal. Where the old material was about creating a droning atmosphere, the new album was driven by SAMMAEL’s riffs. As you have already picked up on, J.R.R. MARTIN is a storyteller, wanting to weave tales and get into various characters. Beyond that though, J.R.R. MARTIN is similarly inspired by both classic black metal in his delivery, and classic heavy metal in his lyrics, with a particular love of rhyme, and catchy choruses.
Jonah M: Building on VUK’s question, how did this new line-up change come to be? How do you know each other?
ORCRYPT: SAMMAEL and J.R.R. MARTIN both knew UGLUK for a number of years through being fans of earlier musical projects. When UGLUK decided to reactivate ORCRYPT in 2018 SAMMAEL and J.R.R. MARTIN offered to join, and that is how they met.
VUK: I mentioned earlier the Dungeon Synth intro, as well as “Balrog & Roll” having a “fuller” sound, and how these things help transport the listener to the fantasy realm you’re singing about. What choices were made in the studio, production-wise, to achieve the overall sound here? There are times it sounds almost like you’re doing a great deal of the album live, and others like you all spent a great deal of time tweaking the levels, particularly in the vocal department. Can you tell us more about your process here?
ORCRYPT: When we recorded the “Dice & Damnation” demo the songs were recorded digitally, mastered to cassette and then converted back into digital, because we were going for a deliberately lo-fi, dirty and raw sound, similar to the process that was followed on “Mercenaries of Mordor” (J.R.R. Martin recorded all vocals for the demo using a cheap headset mic for that genuine raw feel). Initially, recording for the album continued in the same way with the intention of creating something raw and lo-fi.
We actually finished the album in this form just before the UK went into lockdown. Then we lived with the album for a bit and found that the way we had recorded it had done a disservice to the quality of the songs we had written, particularly as our songwriting and band cohesion had developed from the early demo. In the end we ended up rerecording the entire album during lockdown.
J.R.R. MARTIN recorded all his vocals, backing vocals and voice overs live, with studio mixomancy used to distinguish between the different voices, such as the lead and backing vocals on the choruses to “Flight of the Dracolich” and “Welcome to Barovia” or making the Illithid voice on “I, Mindflayer” different from the Acererak voice on “Tomb of Horrors.”
VUK: That is fascinating! And the fact that it was all re-recorded during lockdown leads quite well into my next question. I really think every song on the album would translate wonderfully to a live setting. Given that COVID has taken away any possibilities of this happening any time soon, what are your thoughts on perhaps doing a live stream of some kind?
ORCRYPT: Ironically, we were planning on making our live debut before COVID happened. We would love to do a livestream concert at some point. Unfortunately, due to the current situation, and being scattered around our tiny island, getting together in one place is particularly difficult at the moment. It is something we certainly hope to do in some capacity should the opportunity arise.
Jonah M: I have to say, “Welcome to Barovia” blew me away. As a fan of Dungeons and Dragons, I’ve always loved the Ravenloft setting. This song further proves your kick ass knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons, and your guy’s use of the theme to “The Munsters” was particularly stellar. Whose idea was that?
ORCRYPT: That was all SAMMAEL! Initially it was a placeholder solo and he was going to change it but it fit the song perfectly so it ended up staying. Talking of “Welcome to Barovia,” Dungeons and Dragons and lyrics. Originally the track “Welcome to Barovia” was going to be told from the perspective of a poor adventurer being transformed into an Illithid and feeling the spawn wriggling in his head. That idea was tweaked and ended up being used for what became “I, Mindflayer.” That track was originally going to be about the old D&D campaign “The Apocalypse Stone.” Ironically, the original lyrics to “Flight of the Dracolich” was about the same campaign. So, “Barovia” was originally “Illithid Dreams,” “I, Mindflayer” was originally “The Apocalypse Stone,” and “Flight of the Dracolich” was also originally “The Apocalypse Stone.” It’s an awful campaign but an awesome title! Another idea that changed was “Hexblade” was originally about “The Lady of Pain” from Planescape.
Jonah M: The last two songs “Tomb of Horrors” and “Greenskins of Greyhawk” seem to be references to the first campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons: Greyhawk. Am I correct in assuming that this is the setting that you guys started playing the game in?
ORCRYPT: Sadly not. In the UK, up until fairly recently, Warhammer (bow before the Verminlord!) and its big brother Warhammer 40,000 have dominated the hobby landscape, so D&D was a fairly niche thing during our respective youths. Our initial exposure to the worlds of D&D were mainly through computer games. J.R.R. MARTIN was addicted to the original Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment and we all know how alluring diving headfirst into a mountain of lore and history can be!
It wasn’t until later that we discovered D&D in its true form. That said “The Tomb of Horrors” is probably the single most infamous meat-grinder of all time, so how could we not throw our listeners down those treacherous hallways?! As for “Greenskins of Greyhawk”, the riff seemed orcish, and we had to have orcs on the album. It was a perfect storm of ideas.
Jonah M: You said that “Hexblade” was originally about “The Lady of Pain.” Any chance us listeners will hear more about her or other “Planescape” aspects?
VUK: Wow, guys! Thank you all so much for taking the time to chat with us. Honestly, it means a lot! Jonah and I are huge fans of the album. It has been fun as hell to listen to repeatedly, and sort of get lost within the world you’ve created. Nicely done!
Jonah M: Hell yeah! It was awesome to get to ask you guys some questions.
ORCRYPT: Our pleasure, we are very proud of the album and are pleased with the positive reception it has been getting. Thank you for your thoughtful questions!
VUK: Jonah could probably ask D&D questions for a while! Haha! Good stuff! Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to leave with our readers? What are your plans moving forward?
ORCRYPT: “Balrog & Roll” is available on CD, and a “Dungeon Master Edition” is available on cassette, both from https://www.deathtomusic.com/. We are already in the early stages of writing new music, so we don’t intend to leave it another five years before the next album. In the meantime: Roll dice – Worship Satan – Listen to ORCRYPT!