Review: Orme – S/T
Pondering my Orme.
I am unable to substantiate Orme’s claim that they are “the UK’s slowest ever power trio”, but I’m inclined to believe it. Languid at its most upbeat and completely static at its slowest, this is a record that takes its goddamn time. With a runtime that will occupy more than one-and-half hours of your life, and with the number of distinct musical events that actually happen in that duration being countable on your fingers and toes, Orme’s debut is for neither thrill seekers nor for the faint of heart generally, and is so aggressively decompressed and time-dilated that it very nearly sails through the rarefied realms of Art right into the far more populated realms of Bullshit… which is why I’m surprised to find myself wholeheartedly recommending it.
While I was rolling my eyes less than halfway through the very long intro of the albums opener (and entire first disc) “Nazarene”, at some point during that track’s forty-two minute expanse I found myself not only enjoying myself but actually paying attention, which is no mean feat for a record that’s willing to let nothing in particular happen for entire EPs worth of time. But when something does happen, it happens hard, and it stays happening until its damn well finished—for all its profound unhurriedness, its actually pretty tightly structured on the macro level and elaborately textured on a second-to-second basis, which means that it rewards your time.
A guided tour through “Nazarene” is in order: starting with minutes-on-end of psychedelic prelude as clean-tone licks fade in and out amidst a sea of delay, the distorted guitar sound that forms the track’s centerpiece doesn’t make an appearance until five-and-a-half minutes in. But when it does, it is enrapturing. A monotonous as in literally mono-tone-ous drone of subtly layered distortion, it’s a gigantic haze of barely-perceptibly shifting noise that slowly but surely blocks out the rest of the world from your attention as you zone in more and more on its mesmerizingly both-changing-and-not campfire flicker. I could listen to it all day, which is good because you damn near have to. It’s the only sound present for two entire minutes before Luke Thelin’s drums finally kick in, banging out an endless splatter of Vegas-endings-in-slow-motion, an appropriately non-rhythmic undergirding for the drone that’s structured like energy jazz avant-percussion but which reverberates with unmistakable hard rock muscle.
This arrangement carries on for a double-digit number of minutes during which the vocals say their piece (a double-tracked rant-and-chant Satanic liturgy) before the piece’s first identifiable beat finally kicks in after no fewer than twenty-four total minutes of suspended animation. That beat comes with a riff, and its damn heavy and damn minimal—even as “Nazarene” slouches towards its sludge-rocking climax, the actual notes change infrequently enough that every one registers as a seismic shift.
That riff spends millions of years (about seven minutes) slowly eroding a canyon in your brain before it overtops its banks as guitarist Tom Clements spills over into an old-school rock solo slowed to a crawl by the burden of ten tons of stone. Eventually it collapses and oozes back into that same fathomless drone, now driven slowly forward by a languorous rock beat and hypnotic two-note bass riff from Jimmy Long, sounding out over and over again before finally collapsing to silence over the course of minutes. Masterful.
Track 2 (and disc 2) “Onward to Sarnath” is in even less of a hurry; its distorted drone takes more than seven minutes to kick in, and isn’t as heavy when it does, with the drums similarly spaced-out but articulated without the rock-drummer windup, and with the cavernous wail of a didgeridoo winding about beneath it, the classic metal aesthetics that dominated (albeit in abstracted form) the first half of the record here fade into the background as Orme slowlyyyyy prepare you for the tracks real aesthetic centerpiece.
Onward to “Onward to Sarnath” is where the band makes good on their self-proclaimed “ritual ambient” tag—after a brief narrated prologue, the vocals drop the ominous metal snarl in favor of a meditative, statically pitched, and seemingly very inward-directed chant. By ten or fifteen minutes in they’ve basically abandoned the pretense of this being a performance for for an audience; by the time guest vocalist Chea Griffin Anker makes their first ethereally stunning appearance nineteen minutes in, the tone of the piece is nothing short of sacramental. But things aren’t totally motionless even here; the drums have started meandering their way towards an identifiable pulse, and the multiple droning vocal strands start rising ever so slowly to a climax.
It has got to be one of the most subtle (and certainly one of the longest) crescendo-and-decrescendos I’ve ever heard, but it is happening—winding upwards and downwards again over more than a quarter of an hour, by the time the vocals recede back out of sight you’ll have forgotten every heavy metal truism you ever thought you knew as you find yourself once again left alone with a barely-pulsating drone of amplified grit.
When you remember them again as the piece’s first rock beat finally muscles its way in (after nearly 37 minutes!), you’ll be reminded of why you held them so dear in the first place; those first few minutes of colossal rhythm and gargantuan riffage bash their way through your consciousness with the weight and power of a living mountain. When it erupts into yet another gigantically noisy guitar solo you’ll put your fist in the air and cheer like goddamn dipshit, which Orme damn well deserve for putting in the work to erode away your higher brain functions. But it’s not until afterwards that they hit you with their biggest change-up: silence. But its not the silence of the album coming to an end—it’s a lacuna written in to the piece, and its part of the show. The fact that it lasts exactly 4:33 is obviously not an accident.
I’m sure they’ll be delighted to learn that the first time I heard it, I was on a long train ride. I made the independent decision to wait it out and listen contentedly the buzz of the people and infrastructure around me. I wasn’t sure whether my mp3 was broken but I suspected that it wasn’t, and when the sound faded back in after what certainly felt like about four-and-a-half minutes, I was grinning from ear to ear. I confirmed the exact duration on a later listen.
When the music at last returns for its brief postlude, you’ll have experienced a version the album that no one’s ever heard before and no one will ever hear again. Its a hell of a trick, and it was sublime the first time I heard it. Admittedly, I really like the sound of trains. Final verdict: a damn good record.