The delicate blue flowers gracing the white background on the cover of O.R.B.’s Naturality give no indication of the heavy music found within. Upon first listen, the band’s sludgy doom rock might remind one of CFM or Fuzz. Yet, it’s simultaneously more sparse and more dense, feeling as if it were recorded in mono and absent the glittering overlay that much of Fuzz’s music possesses.
“Hazlewart” opens the album with groovy synth sounds, a provocative guitar melody and Jamie Harmer’s excellent drumming, which remains on point throughout all eight tracks on Naturality. Also impressive is the way singer/guitarist Zak Olsen’s vocals follow the often-unpredictable time signatures, which is no easy task.
While lyrics like “god is in / you and me / there’s no sin” (“Hazlewart”) seem appropriate for music that sounds profoundly inspired by Black Sabbath, things become even more intriguing in “A Man in the Sand. The track is so reminiscent of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd that it’s almost eerie. Pairing anti-war lyrics with Olsen’s ironic, nasal vocal style, the song makes a strong statement: “Could it be that I don’t get the reason? / could it be that there is not a point?”
There’s an unexpected shift into a more mid-1980s punk style with the catchy “You Are Right” which comes across like a “fuck you” of sorts, or at least a paean to self-confidence: “you can face them / tell them what you want / you do what you want.”
The middle of the album is where Naturality transforms into pure doom sludge. “O.R.B.” is more than eight minutes of this, featuring a killer Sabbath-style guitar riff and Harmer’s astonishingly good drum skills. (It’s also a new version of the same track from the band’s 2015 debut, Womb.)
“Immortal Tortoise” picks up where this track leaves off, a six-minute plus song that makes the midpoint of Naturality feel like a slog if you have a low tolerance for extended jamming. Yet, it’s hard to resist lyrics like “tortoise king of water / tortoise king of land / immortal tortoise in the water.” There’s more heaviness in “Mother Brain,” another long track that, admittedly, has a pretty fantastic chorus.
There’s a reprieve from the quagmire with the magically spooky guitar intro of “Flying Sorcerer,” which has some charming, Tolkien-esque lyrics: “white beard, deep fear, frightening / silence broke by lightning.” Similarly, “Rainbow’s End” features thrilling guitar melodies and a wonderful bass line along with its self-consciously funny lyrics: “Looking for a dragon, head into a cave, this is what he gets for trying to be brave.” Like “O.R.B.,” this is an updated version of a track from the Womb EP that shows how much the band’s musical skills have progressed since then. There’s more space in this version for the melody — and Olsen’s vocals — to breathe.
Olsen admits that being in a strictly doom band would be “extremely boring,” noting that O.R.B.’s sound is “more groove-based.” That sound was fairly well-established with their first release, which is what makes the songs that don’t strictly follow that sludgy rock pattern so refreshing. The first two songs on Naturality prove O.R.B.’s members have clearly got the chops to do something different with their doom-inspired template. We’ll have to wait until their next release to see if they choose to explore that further.
Naturality was released on October 6 from Castle Face Records.
Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.