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Orthrelm - OV

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Artist: Orthrelm

Album: OV

Label: Ipecac

Review date: Jun. 1, 2005

D.C.-based duo Orthrelm (Mick Barr on guitar and Josh Blair on drums) has never fit the mold of, say, Lightning Bolt or Ruins (or even Ui!). They’ve always had a few too many Derek Bailey records on deck for that, and a few too many Napalm Death ones, too. Their earlier discs featured Barr sounding like an amalgam of Blood Ulmer harmolodics, death metal shred, and spiky Bailey-isms. But on this new full-length – consisting of one 45-minute tune – the band has changed styles considerably. The largest shift is from an all-out avoidance of repetition to a full-on experiment with it.

Repetition is what rock is all about, after all. But OV, while played by fellows who clearly have roots in and an affinity for heavy music, isn’t so much about sludge as it is about spasm. Think back to the halcyon days of vinyl, and picture Ride the Lightning or Among the Living. Right in the middle of a crazed guitar solo, with 32nd notes flying, the needle gets stuck in the groove - that’s OV. It’s Orthrelm maxing out minimalism - a kind of trance-thrash. Either that, or it’s the early '90s Melvins on 78 rpm. Blair’s rolling, tuned toms could almost be a sample from some awesome Louis Moholo-Moholo improvisation, were it not for the grinding, motoric repetition. And Barr’s sharp, brittle tone suggests the influence of shred-master metal as well as flinty free improv.

Each section includes a number of subtle modulations: change of attack, occasional morphing of tempo, and so forth. And there's no denying the duo’s chemistry – they’re locked in tight to the concept and to each other’s playing (very specific drum patterns cue the section changes, often just modulations of the same repeated lick from Blair). The dynamics and structure of the piece aren’t too surprising or challenging; for the most part, things ratchet up continually, with some occasional cool-downs during the latter third of the disc. The first flareup occurs roughly ¼ of the way in, with some particularly fierce unison playing (almost like some thrashy mutation of the end of Mahavishnu’s “The Noonward Race”). The first major break occurs just shy of OV’s midpoint, sounding almost as if the cage to some aviary is open, unleashing a flock of mad birds. From there, however, things slow down, air out, and the duo almost trade licks, which assume an increasingly Middle Eastern flavor, until the big metal moment of the disc’s conclusion.

The polar opposite of Sleep’s mighty Dopesmoker, the jittery OV is a 45-minute mindfuck. It’s almost like the end is beside the point: you get the feeling that no matter when, you could check in on Orthrelm and they’d still be wailing and hacking away at this material. It’s a pretty intense ride.

By Jason Bivins

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