Album Review :
Orion Walsh - First By Water Then By Fire

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Band: Orion Walsh
Title: First by Water Then by Fire
Label: Plan C Records and the Hunter Records
Release Date: 02/07/12
Reviewer: Josh Hamm

Tracklisting:

  1. Water then Fire
  2. The First Shall Be the Last
  3. The Gulf of Mexico
  4. Journey of a Spruce Tree
  5. In One Day

This EP further solidifies Orion Walsh’s success after switching to a solo artist after his role as front man in Slow Coming Day. He’s made a couple great albums with a decidedly country-folk and Americana sound, making use of jangly acoustic guitars and harmonicas. With First by Water Then By Fire, you’ll be presently surprised as he amps up the intensity level on some tracks, bringing in wailing electric guitars and heavy hitting drums. It’s still got that same folk vibe, but it’s got a lot more energy behind it. Although, truth is told, while these are great songs, I prefer his slower, more folky songs.

This is a loosely based concept album, which are often some of my favourite types of albums. Walsh has crafted these five songs around 2 Peter 3:5-10. I don’t have space to quote the whole verse, but here are some snippets: “long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water…But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” This is best exemplified with the opening and the closing songs, “Water then Fire” and “In One Day.”

“Water then Fire,” is a song about judgment, and how on our own we will all be found wanting on the last day. It’s an incredibly hard hitting song lyrically, and a bold choice to open the album with it. But I love all the more for doing so. Walsh does not shy away from serious topics and scenarios most Christian music leaves untouched. He sings about how all of us will be found as liars and sinners, and how fire will turn all to ash. His voice carries throughout it all; his rough, husky vocals clinging to every word and letting each go out with purpose. I especially love his voice when he sings “We must all die, but I believe our souls will rise.”

The second and third songs on the album, “The First Shall Be the Last,” and “Gulf of Mexico,” are prime examples of the fantastic energy and rock vibe that he can bring. The instrumentation wouldn’t sound out of place on one of NEEDTOBREATHE’s more upbeat tracks, but the vocals and lyrics are undeniably Orion Walsh’s. The lyrics on these songs can be pretty harshly critical such as in “The First Shall Be the Last,” he talks about the futility of spending money frivolously, gluttony while others are starving to death, and in one of the most politically critical parts of the song, criticizing war with” kill the innocent people, kill, kill until every last one is dead, kill, kill in the name of freedom, and then report that you’re a hero.” This is a heavy message to be delivered in such a short song. In “the Gulf of Mexico” he addresses war even further, and also touches upon the recent oil spill there. I found that I couldn’t just listen to these songs half heartedly, I had to pay attention to every word in order to fully appreciate the scope of what he’s singing about. There’s a lot of food for thought in these songs, and you’ll find yourself chewing on them for a while.

If you’ve listened to any of his previous work, you know that he has an uncanny ability to craft stories and make you feel as if you’re right there watching it happen. “Journey of a Spruce Tree” is an exceptional example off of this EP, as it follows a spruce tree as it is chopped down and made into a guitar. A man buys the guitar and they go together to war in the Philippines. All I can say is that it is an amazingly creative song and story which pulls you in from the beginning and never lets you go. The imagery and emotion he manages to evoke from you is incredible. It also has some great backing instruments, as Walsh provides the guitar and banjo and bass himself, which would have made a great song, but he adds in some organ and euphonium to round out the song and give it a full sound. This song is a personal favourite from this EP, as both the lyrics and the instruments weave you in and out of this fantastic tale.

The final song, “In One Day,” is the perfect closer to a near perfect album, starting with a simple acoustic guitar strumming along, but as it progresses the addition of a cello, a soft electric guitar, and eventually a trombone, trumpet and euphonium create a melancholy atmosphere of sound as Walsh sings of Judgement Day. The lyrics are strikingly mournful and hopeful at once, with lines like “can you feel the pain inside of my head, or see the demons who wait beside my bed, nightmares and catastrophes, well I pray the Lord that he rescues me,” and “can you feel the world’s love growing cold, it seems hate is all that we know, theft, murder, adultery, poverty, inequality… wars, earthquakes, and hurricanes, all these are merely birthing pains,” but ending out the song singing “but He will return in glory and in power, one day.” This dichotomy creates a beautiful sadness to the song, which in an odd way reminds me of “Fin” from Anberlin’s Cities.

Overall: At first listen, to be honest, I wasn’t immediately blown away. There were decent rough folk vocals layered over good but average instruments. I listened to it again, and I realized I had it dead wrong. Orion Walsh is an incredible solo artist, and this EP is one of his best releases yet. His lyrical depth knows no bounds, and his acoustic guitar is the perfect fit for his voice, which spins stories like no other, and the other instruments like the organ, drums, and various horns do a great job at rounding out the sound and add to the already high level of professionalism and skilled song writing. You’ll find yourself mulling over his words for days; if you want thoughtfully written and delivered music, you’ll find it here.

RIYL: Slow Coming Day, Brett Detar, The Hotshot Freight Train, The Civil Wars

 

 

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