There’s something special in the water, air, or spider-venom in Australia. More and more, the Land Down Under is becoming a hotbed for top class progressive metal, and I’m getting to a point where I’ll blindly leap onto anything labeled Aussie prog, even if it has a cover as baffling as Aver’s Orbis Majora. Who thought “now all these naked space ladies need is having their arms melted together, getting them stuck to a giant bile-green orb, and replacing their heads with purple planets?”
Regardless, the third album by these Sydney residents more than deserves a seat at the table. Orbis Majora is a fantastic amalgamation of stoner metal and prog with overtones of grunge and garage rock, a spiritual cousin to Elder and Weedpecker in their wandering compositions and balanced fuzz. Aside from the guitar sound’s perfectly tuned staticky grit, the grungy elements largely reveal themselves in vocalist Burdt’s strung out vocals, which wade into waters of the Cornell and Cobain ilk. The vocals bring a lot of color to the compositions and lend some emotional gravitas to anchor the flightiness of the lengthy songs. When the music goes into drifting mode, the wonderful viola by Monique Mezzatesta helps set up a languid, melancholy mood, contrasting nicely with the crunchy riffs and Burdt’s throat-tearing shouts when overdrive is engaged.
But this album is all about the guitars, and holy mother of Jørn do they deliver! Pounding, twisting, rocking multi-part riffs are churned out one after another like it’s no big deal, all of them vibrant, vital and life-affirming. When compositions go for a climax, Aver uses their dual guitar setup well, one axe prolonging the momentum in the riffs while the other spins up crazy solos into a torrent of panty-drenching music. The riffs are kept fresh by the frequent tonal variations, with plentiful bent notes and wah-wah use to give the music a classic feel. The chunky bass helps, too, frequently supplementing the riffs or even adopting them during quieter sections, taking the spotlight until the fuzzy six-strings roar back to life.
The length of the songs demands great songwriting, and here the crowd might divide a little. Aver incorporates a lot of space and breathing room into their songs, the guitars simmering down or disappearing momentarily in favor of the cello and bass. Your enjoyment of Orbis Majora may depend at least partly on your patience and tolerance for this. On the one hand, it doesn’t directly play to their strengths, but when the riffs hit, they hit all the harder for it. Just listen to the monstrous, neck-snapping lead that bursts through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man just moments after such a drift halfway through “Disorder.” Though I wish on occasion the band would get back to the ball-busting riffs a tad quicker, particularly on “Unanswered Prayers,” which takes a while to get to the point, the quiet moments give great contrast, making the album as a whole more dynamic and the long tracks easier to swallow. Furthermore, the band is great at setting up gradually building compositions that slowly spread layer upon layer, until you notice you’ve been had like the frog in the pot and what started out as atonal drifting has become a hurricane of thundering guitars.
Orbis Majora is an album for the patient. The compositions take their time, building up expectations and either bursting straight through or subtly transforming into a whirlwind of riffs and solos. But that patience is rewarded with some of the best stoner riffs I expect to hear this year, dosed as carefully as a drug dealer trying to keep a junkie hooked. As soon as the album is over I want another hit, and another, and another. A dozen spins in, I’ve yet to grow bored of it. Aver is a force to be reckoned with, and cements Australia’s position at the peak of prog today.