ORYAD – SACRED & PROFANE
RELEASE: May 25th, 2023
AUTHOR: Isabell Köster
01. The Path: Part I
02. Scorched Earth
07. Wayfaring Stranger
08. Through The Veil
09. Slice Of Time
10. The Path: Part II
ORYAD (the name derives from the Oreads, the mountain nymphs of Greek mythology who are associated with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt) is by their own definition a progressive doom opera project hailing from the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges of the United States. Shaping the artistic vision are soprano and pianist Moira Murphy and drummer Matt Gotlin-Sheehan. Both are professional musicians who bring something unique to the table: Moira is an internationally renowned opera singer with stage direction experience, Matt has a background as a touring metal drummer and jazz musician. Together they interweave different musical influences from classical music over doom, progressive and symphonic metal to jazz and blues. The duo has teamed up with jazz musicians Luca Grieman (guitar) and Adam Sanders (bass) to round off ORYAD‘s powerful sound and to be ready for live shows. In June 2021, the metal ensemble released their debut EP “Hymns Of Exile & Decay” which was well-received by listeners and the independent press, especially in Europe. Now ORYAD present their debut album “Sacred & Profane” which will be released in partnership with SAOL, CMM-GmbH on worldwide streaming services and in CD format. To give their first full-length release the sound it deserves, the band recruited producer Vikram Shankar, winner of the National Federation of Music Clubs classical composition competition, to mix and master the album. So, let’s dive into the ten pieces.
The opener “The Path: Part I” is the first step of the ritual. According to front lady Moira Murphy “it talks about the sunrise, being on this path of fate and trying to find the line between what your overall universal set fate is versus the fate you make for yourself”. The track begins with soft, melancholic piano sounds that mix with Moira‘s enchanting vocals. Her vocals immediately draw you in like a siren beckoning you to certain doom. Two things already become clear at this point: on the one hand, how great Moira‘s classically trained soprano voice is – she doesn’t need to hide behind a Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish) or a Simone Simons (Epica) and has a timbre all her own – and on the other hand, that ORYAD‘s music is not something you consume on the side. It demands your full attention. From the first second, the music connects to something ancient inside of me that has been buried in the modern age. That’s why the description as a ritual is very apt. The drums that start in the second half of the short track also fit in with this. According to singer Moira, she and producer Vikram Shankar deliberately based the vocals on ancient plainchant to provide a more primordial sound. An atmospheric opener that sets the mood for the rest of the album.
Next up is “Scorched Earth“. The song begins with heavy guitar riffs that merge with lofty orchestral sounds. Then Moira launches into the powerful verse that builds up to the soaring chorus in which she triumphantly declares: “I clear my path, A Scorched Earth / My flame births the ashes / Here I’ll grow my worth”. The protagonist has overcome adversity and can start a new chapter in her life. “I wanted to start things off positively. Saying this is my understanding of the world, and here we are starting over. It’s a birth. It’s a new beginning. Even though it may seem like destruction – so it’s symbolic in many ways”, the soprano tells me in an interview. Vocal wise, Moira sounds rockier and strives for a more modern sound than in other pieces, revealing her versatility. The track also shows ORYAD’s development from the EP to the debut album. The new music greatly benefits from the fact that Moira took courses in orchestral arrangements specifically for metal bands with Francesco Ferrini (pianist and orchestrator of Fleshgod Apocalypse) in 2020. Whereas on early tracks like “Inflammatus” (this is a special case though, because it is a classical piece that the band has taken over relatively unchanged) classical vocals and instruments didn’t fully merge, on “Sacred & Profane“ they blend into a coherent whole. “Scorched Earth” turns out to be a powerful and catchy opener with a strong positive message.
Next on the agenda is “Blood” which quickly became a personal favourite due to its dramatic nature. Thematically, it’s a song about grief, about losing someone that was close to you. “They were in your bloodstream, and you don’t know how to live beyond that”, Moira explains. The song begins unexpectedly with a rousing, classically inspired piano solo by Moira. Then heavy, almost ominous sounding guitars set in, accompanied by dramatic orchestral sounds. A doomy mood develops in the interplay of the instruments. Next, Moira‘s dark, almost seductive vocals kick in, building into a call for the beloved. “Where are you?”, sings the soprano full of longing. She then launches into the intense chorus and proclaims: “I need you, stay in my blood / I am you, we are one”. A profound expression of pain at the loss of the loved one. Moira performs this chorus a total of three times, the last time accompanied by driving double bass drumming for that extra kick – which is an ingenious addition. Undoubtedly an album highlight, framed by that animated piano solo.
The following two pieces are sister songs, says Moira. “I chose to make “Lilith” lighter because I wanted to show that there are multifaceted ways of being powerful. I love the idea of Lilith being depicted with wings and flying away from the strictures that she was given with Adam and moving past that”, the lyricist tells me. The track begins with whispering voices and Moira‘s ethereal vocals. Accompanied by pulsating drums, the soprano launches into the melodic verses. The refrain is an ode to personal freedom, accompanied by soulful string sounds: “From the light / I fly into the night / Finding places for my soul to breathe”. Overall, the track has a warm atmosphere and evokes a sunny desert landscape in the mind’s eye. It also has a feminist message, which is revealed in the second part of the chorus, when Moira sings: “In the fight / I stand up for the might / Of my voice / It cries to be free”.
The sister song “Eve” is a different beast. ORYAD have also created an atmospheric video for this track, which demanded singer Moira‘s full commitment. Like “Lilith“, the song begins with whispering voices (perhaps another stylistic element to express that the two pieces are supposed to be two sides of the same coin), but after a short time, doomy guitars set in and show that ORYAD are moving in a much darker direction on this one. In the chorus, you can even spot some black metal references in the drumming. These are also meant to underline the story: “When Eve is speaking her monologue, she gets to reclaim herself instead of being a victim in history. It was important for me to put her forth as a person who is reclaiming the sense of a creatrix, a reinventor of female self”, Moira explains. “Eve” is a really varied composition that stays in your head for a long time and in which not only frontwoman Moira but also the other musicians show what they are truly capable of.
“Eve” is followed by “Alchemy” which exudes a jazzy vibe and draws on Moira’s roots in gospel singing. But the distorted guitars are not neglected and still form the backbone of the music. In terms of content, “Alchemy” is about feeling intertwined with a person, in a sensual way. Suitably, Moira‘s vocals and the way she sings radiate sensuality. In addition to this, there’s a cool blues guitar solo at the heart of the song. Tracks like this one show that ORYAD don’t put on blinkers, but incorporate influences from different musical styles into their sound if it fits their artistic vision.
Number 7 is “Wayfaring Stranger”, a traditional American folk song that has been performed by stars like Johnny Cash and Joan Baez. But ORYAD have made it their own by adding heavy guitars and their trademark drums. For Moira it was essential to have the melancholic track on the album. “I really wanted to include an Appalachian folk song, because it’s very important to my heritage. It also was sung at my grandfather’s funeral”, the singer elaborates. In her view, the “Wayfaring Stranger” is someone journeying through life, who is acutely aware that he is mortal and headed towards his own death.
Next is “Through The Veil”, which according to the band tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but also addresses miscommunication in relationships. For some reason, this piece was the least accessible to me on the album, but if you take the time and listen to it closely you will discover a gem. The classically inspired song starts with mystical whispering and delicate string sounds before Moira softly starts singing. In the melancholic chorus, the vocals are very operatic, which fits into the song well. The track slowly increases and becomes more intense towards the end, accompanied by piano and Middle Eastern sounding drums.
A personal favourite is “Slice Of Time”, which according to singer Moira is “probably our most classic symphonic track on the whole album”. It’s also one of the most varied ones. The guitars gallop off exuberantly right at the beginning. Then Moira‘s powerful soprano vocals kick in and drive the song forward. The chorus is epic and soaring – and clearly calmer than the verses. This is due to the subject as the singer reveals: “The whole thing is about anxiety and insomnia. That’s why there are two conflicting sections. You have the heavy, angry portion of the verses where you can’t sleep. You’re anxious and your mind is racing. Not only that, but you feel like everything’s coming to a head. And then the chorus is very placid. It’s saying that time will heal the wounds that make you anxious”. Accordingly, Moira states in the chorus: “Time, it drives a blade through the voices / Cutting through words and through dreams / Time is a sword, a sword”. An epic piece and a recommendation for all lovers of symphonic metal with a decent oomph.With “The Path: Part II” the ritual eventually comes to an end. The final track begins with a piano melody, quickly superseded by Moira’s mystical vocals. As a counterpart to the primordial drums of the opener the band has employed modern beats this time, interwoven with melodic string sounds. “The moon is rising, the sun is setting. The self has gone through cyclical transformations but is still the same core self in the end”, says the soprano. With this reassuring notion, the musical journey ends.
ORYAD’s debut “Sacred & Profane” firmly puts them on the map as one of the most exciting new acts in (symphonic) metal. Moira Murphy’s classically trained voice is exquisite and she has achieved something that not many singers have done for me in recent years: she made me listen with anticipation and gave me goosebumps. I would go so far as to say that she has one of the best soprano voices in modern metal. ORYAD are undoubtedly a highly skilled set of musicians, who create profound music not only, but especially for discerning listeners.
Recommended plays: “Lilith”, “Eve”, “Slice Of Time”.