Style: Space Rock/Doom Metal
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Variety in source location as much as genre is one of my core principles at Apocalypse Later but trying to find an album that did really well with the critics last year that isn't from an American band can be troublesome. This album, however, made a couple of top lists of 2019 and topped one, a rather thoughtful and interesting list from Pop Matters. And, as it's an odd album from Finland, that's why I'm reviewing it today.
It's odd in a few different ways, beginning with the band itself, which is a unique creation. For a start, it's not one band but two, who merged when the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands commissioned them to create and perform a ritual piece of music there in 2018. One is Oranssi Pazuzu, a psychedelic black metal band from Tampere and Seinäjoki with four albums to their name. The other is Dark Buddha Rising, a drone/sludge metal band from Laitila who have six albums behind them. Uniquely, the Waste of Space Orchestra includes every member of both bands, so two drummers, two bassists, three guitarists, etc.
I haven't heard either of those bands before, so can't extract their sounds from this musical merger, but I do like what I hear while acknowledging that it really isn't going to be for everyone. It's tough to describe the result, but it's an intriguing mix of space rock, drone doom and performance art. It plays consistently as a conceptual piece but brings to mind a versatile set of influences. Journey to the Center of Mass feels like krautrock for quite a while, a little like early Tangerine Dream, but Wake Up the Possessor is a heavy Hawkwind jam, while Infinite Gate Opening is an overtly ritual section of a piece that was designed with ritual in mind.
The album's page at Svart Records explains that it involves three beings and their quest for knowledge. The Shaman sees oppressing visions of the future. The Seeker searches for truth in unknown dimensions. The Possessor corrupts the others, manipulating them for his own purposes. They conjure up a portal during a ceremony, which sucks them into an alien dimension, "populated by brain-mutilating colour storms and ego-diminishing audio violence". Finding equilibrium, all three minds are melted into one collective consciousness.
You know, that sort of thing. What's amazing is that wild visions like that tend to sound wild on paper but the performance turns out to be a let down. How can anyone live up to that? Well, Waste of Space Orchestra do precisely that. While you wouldn't conjure up every detail of the story from a listen or three, the music does mirror it rather closely. It's clearly not just a ritual but a journey too and "brain-mutilating colour storms" is as good a description of a piece of music like Vacuum Head as any I can come up with. You don't have to be a synaesthete.
For all the black metal and sludge roots of the bands involved, this should play best to Hawkwind fans as the closest thing I can conjure up to compare it with is their double live Space Ritual album from 1973, not just because the title would be appropriate here too but because it features a sound both as dense and as trippy, because its songs were interspersed with electronica and spoken-word sections (some written by cult author Michael Moorcock) and because it was an audio-visual experience. This, of course, is heavier.
What impressed me from the outset was the use of melody. Void Monolith is a crushingly heavy intro, all those duplicated instruments layering to deepen the effect. However, there's a delicate melody woven through the whole song. The Shamanic Vision doubles down on that deep heavy sound, with two drummers going full tilt tribal and the voice of the Shaman howling into the void. It eventually finds a black metal blitzkrieg but there's a melodic cloud waving around everything. However heavy this gets, and it gets very heavy, there's always something melodic going on too.
The other important thing to note is that, while this is a studio recording that splits the concert piece into nine tracks, the breaks coming at logical points, this quickly becomes a single hour long piece of music. As such, my list of highlights isn't made up of songs but parts of them: the build-up in Journey to the Center of Mass, a hypnotic section towards the end of Wake Up the Possessor, the opening drums in The Shamanic Vision, the way Vacuum Head kicks in hard.
This certainly isn't going to be for everyone, just as neither band involved is probably going to be for everyone, but, if you're into the idea of a wild trip into the cosmos that encompasses space rock, black metal, drone, ritual chanting and electronic weirdness, then this is magnificent stuff and it's a must for anyone who wants to, as Bill Hicks said, squeegee your third eye. I recommend checking out the Pop Matters list in general. I only reviewed one album from their top twenty last year, though I've caught up with three more this January, and I only disagree about one. I'll be dipping into it further over the rest of the month.