Orthrelm’s OV is the most disappointing album of 2005. Well, maybe if you liked what they–Mick Barr and Josh Blair, both former D.C. metal and math men–have been doing since their formation in 2000.
Consider Asristir Vieldriox, the band’s 2002 99-track, 12-minute EP. It’s acid spittle; fleeting metal riffs slapped against a clatter of drums, rolling into big, brittle space. 2004’s Norildivoth Crallos Lomrixth Urthiln has two tracks that break the two-minute mark and 13 that don’t: Again, sporadic, seemingly logic-less music spewed by a charging, minimal duo. Jackson Pollock gone wild.
Then consider OV, the band’s first release on Ipecac Recordings, a label owned by Greg Werckman and former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton. Just when it seemed that Orthrelm was capable of usurping Lightning Bolt as one of the most ferocious acts in music, they became their own dichotomy. OV is a 45-minute, one-track, minimalist piece, and it’s a monster, a draining testament to endurance, both mentally and physically.
“Oh, it’s exhausting to play live,” says drummer Blair, at home in Washington days before leaving on a tour on which he will play it every day. “But playing it live as often as we get to, it takes over and we’re able to crawl inside and pay attention to what’s going on. It’s this strange combination of relaxing and sleeping that is high-strung at the same time.”
Surprisingly, this monolith seems less postmodern than its spazzy antecedents: Whereas earlier Orthrelm proclaimed, “Hey, look at this!” OV just is. It’s an exorcism of sound that, somehow, sounds entirely non-contrived. The band’s work hitherto left you feeling exhausted and abused, slapped in the face by streams of ideas so multiple and menacing that one’s own creativity and stamina for staying the course of unbound imagination, relatively speaking, seemed incumbently flaccid.
In the latter respect, OV is the perfect follow-up: It is, after all, a 45-minute paean to imagination, carefully constructed, subtleties guarded and maintained. It is an intimidating piece of music. But, rather than exhausted and abused, OV mandates some kind of anxious serenity, a type of restless restfulness where one gets lost in the present and the way it connects to the past, but always fears a potential disconnect in the possibility of the future. The repetition and subtle shifts are akin to Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians distilled for a heavy metal duo, but the quality and tone of the work–absolutely atonal guitar note patterns and raga-like, trance-inducing, but pounding drums–are aligned with the piercing, pins-and-needles reverie of Tony Conrad’s 1964 landmark Four Violins.
Therein is the magic: A new piece of music that bridges several classical rifts in the context of two-piece rock ‘n’ roll. Or something like rock ‘n’ roll, at least. x
See OV performed live at Wetlands in Chapel Hill on Friday, Feb. 10 with Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan, Pykrete and Calabi Yau opening. The show starts at 10 p.m. and costs $7.