I try to mix up the genres I cover each week at Apocalypse Later and I already reviewed one Black Sabbath influenced stoner band on Wednesday. However, Orphan Gears take a different Sabbath approach to Monolord so I feel comfortable including them both. This is rock instead of metal and it aims for energy rather than slow heaviness. Sure, there's Sabbath here and Motörhead too and even Budgie, but I heard the Almighty here a great deal, bringing a nineties feel to proceedings.
What's more, I was surprised by the American influences, are inevitable in stoner rock but not the names I expected on this album. Orphan Gears aren't channelling Kyuss so much as they're taking notes from Rage Against the Machine and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who are most notable in the lead vocals of Michael C. Stevens. Check out Jeremiah Crowe and M.A.W. for prime examples. And, while it's not my area of expertise, there's a punk edge here that doesn't feel British to me.
Initially they find that Sabbath vibe and ramp up the punk attitude, Bearded Axe getting things into high gear immediately, where they stay for a few tracks and, for the most part, all the way to the absolutely killer of a closer, Psychic Super Wizard from Outer Space. However, there are many points where they mix it up to keep this sound fresh. It's never this band meets that. It's always an original Orphan Gears sound distilled from a dozen different sources in different blends.
Jeremiah Crowe slows down a little and gets funky, though it's never far from bouncing right back into high gear, especially during the chorus which Stevens spits out with attitude. Walking Papers gets very bluesy, down to adding a harmonica that doesn't seem at all out of place. Rich Cornell is the only guitarist here, so that's him digging into the blues and also into psychedelia on M.A.W., a neatly wailing solo making me wonder why he doesn't do that more often.
I liked all these sounds, though I definitely prefer the more uptempo songs. I have nothing against Party Hard or other songs that take more time to get moving, but Orphan Gears really shift when they want to. So much stoner rock gains its heaviness from being slow and it's almost refreshing to hear a stoner rock band remain heavy while simply ripping their way through songs. I'd love to see this band live to see just how much they own the stage. I get the impression that this is not a band you listen to from the comfort of the bar; this is a band to experience right down at the front with all the kids who have more energy than us.
I'm not seeing a negative side at all unless you happen to hate albums that are so consistent that nothing stands out as a killer track. I'd hazard a guess that, if you gave this to ten different stoner rock fans, they may identify eight different favourites. Mine would be that closer but, every time I play the album through again, I think it's going to be something else until I get that far and come back to the same choice every time.
Maybe I could call out the cover art as a negative. Why is there a shiny monolith on the prow of a star destroyer? Isn't that crossing fannish boundaries? Yes, I kid, but I have no idea what I'm really looking at or what it has to do with orphan gears. It got me thinking. That's enough, right?
And the question that I can't leave alone is that, without an obvious killer track, how do I rate this album? Usually that means a solid 7/10 but I think this is better than that, so I'm going to go with a highly recommended 8/10. I'm maybe five times through now and I don't feel the need to skip any of the songs. They all maintain their energy and the variety keeps the album fresh. Yeah, 8/10 it is.