I've learned a lot since I reviewed Portugese band Orangotango's debut album, Sumatra, right at the beginning of this Apocalypse Later Music journey, in January 2019. I hadn't encountered the genres of desert rock or stoner rock, before, at least not knowingly, because it hadn't been created when I was deep diving into rock and metal in the the eighties and it wasn't anywhere I happened to be whenever I dipped back into the genres in the nineties and beyond. I guess I was looking for other things.
The first thing I learned is that I love this stuff, whether it's straight stoner rock, mellowed into desert rock, heavied up into the doom metal I already knew or weirded out into the modern day psychedelic rock genre. Most of the bands exploring these styles nowadays, especially those who do so without a singer to add to their instrumental jams, often move between those variants almost interchangeably and that makes for some fascinating trips.
Orangotango were one of the bands who hooked me onto the genre and they're back with a follow-up to Sumatra called Kerintji, an active volcano that's also the highest mountain in Sumatra, suggesting that the subtitle of Sumatra Vol. II really shouldn't be that surprising. I went back to that first album, because I gave it an 8/10 and this one was playing at the 7/10 level for me. Listening to the pair back to back, I do think this is the weaker album, but it's still a good one, doing much the same thing in fewer but longer tracks, Kerintji being half as long again as Sumatra.
They're a power trio from Portugal and they tend to alternate between two moods. Initially, as on the opener here, Hike, they start out gently, Carlos Jorge's bass exploring and Rui Loureiro's guitar slow and melodic. It's rich but relaxing, almost exactly what I think of when I hear "desert rock" nowadays. I expect I should be picturing the jungle, but I'm picturing the band on stage jamming away to a mellow audience, many of whom probably have their eyes shut and are letting Orangotango take them to the mountain or wherever they think they're going. And then, as with Hike a minute and a half in, they hit the power and heavy up on the turn of a dime.
I like the contrast between these two moods. Even though they're not that different melodically, the intensity shift is palpable. They're more much heavier and more powerful in their second mode, and a little quicker too, but they're still exploring the same sort of territory and maybe that helps to tie the two sides of the band's sound together for a more obvious contrast. Certainly, they need both moods, because they wouldn't be remotely the same band if they only played in one or the other.
The longer songs work for Orangotango, three of the four here effortlessly passing ten minutes, with the opener clocking in at eleven and a half and the closer, Aida, almost reaching fifteen. When they're in a groove, time stops having much meaning. I've listened to this album maybe a dozen times now, in focus and as background, and I'm always shocked when the weird sounds at the end of Aida kick in, as that tells me that three quarters of an hour have passed. It usually feels like about twenty minutes.
Now, while I've learned a lot about this genre covering everything I can at Apocalypse Later over the past few years, I'm still finding my feet in the burgeoning genre of stoner/desert rock and so it may be a little surprising that the most overt comparison that leapt out for me is Pink Floyd. Every time I get about two thirds of the way through Hike, I hear the Floyd. Those are very Floydian chords and I'd bet that Loureiro has listened to extended Floyd jams like Shine On You Crazy Diamond quite a lot. They're nowhere to be found when Orangotango heavy up, of course, but the cheap Black Sabbath comparison can only go so far. They're not as overtly Sabbath-influenced as many of these bands to my ears, even if the Sabbath sound does show up at points, especially in Zero.
Mostly, Orangotango sound like Orangotango to me, which is kind of a compliment, I think. They're an enjoyable desert rock band who heavy up without losing their identity. I get easily caught up in their songs. They never seem to overdo anything, happy with their two moods, but, if that sounds limiting, they never bore me, even on a tenth listen of another ten minute instrumental jam. They're timeless to my ears and it's almost surprising to realise that this is only their second album.