O.R.k. – Screamnasium Review

I’m one of the ones who was saddened to notice the absence of stellar bass guitarist Colin Edwin on Porcupine Tree’s good-to-tepid Closure/Continuation album earlier this year. Apparently since Edwin didn’t call Steven Wilson during their hiatus, there was no place for him in the band. Fine by me now because we have a new O.R.k. album. Remember their third album Ramagehead three years ago? If not, go read this. Or this review of their second album, Soul of an Octopus. You’ll get the gist: these guys create exciting and vital music that cannot be compared to that of Porcupine Tree. There’s a spontaneity here that is rivaled only by Boss Keloid – in fact, that’s a great comparison. O.R.k. may not be as heavy, but the quirkiness and unique delivery is there in spades, and Screamnasium is no exception.

“As I Leave” takes less than a minute to go full Soundgarden on us. It’s a great example of the band’s quirky take on both prog and alt-metal, with the quiet, airy verses and massive choruses. Keyboards flit about the speakers, odd vocal oohs and ahhs blip in and out, acoustic guitars mix with crunchy electric, and Pat Mastelotto destroys his drumkit. What a killer opening track. “Unspoken Words” shows a slightly different version of the band, with an intricate riff accompanied by an equally intricate vocal arrangement. The duet with Elisa (Toffoli, although she only goes by her first name) on “Consequence” is magnificently alluring, as the singers go back and forth and around each other in an oddly seductive manner.

Speaking of vocals, despite the pedigree of Edwin and Mastelotto, LEF is the star of O.R.k.’s show. The Soundgarden comparisons are not included by accident; LEF has the vocal range of Chris Cornell, sounding just like him when he lets it rip and adding his own unique timbre to the softer, airier melodies. It’s a fantastic performance across the entire album. And yes, Edwin’s bass work is sublime and Mastelotto’s drumming is mind-numbingly cool, and Carmelo Pipitone is an amazing guitarist, but whenever LEF sings (kind of like Boss Keloid’s Alex Hurst) he absolutely takes over the song but manages to do so without over-singing. Rather, he just makes each song sparkle more than I suspect any other singer could.

O.R.k. have been together for four albums now, and that comfort level shines throughout, with each band member knowing exactly how to mesh with the others at every step. Each song is a cohesive whole, but you can isolate the musicians and hear very cool things happening, at times quite subtly. Listen to “Hope for the Ordinary,” which is anything but. Edwin’s bass lines anchor the song perfectly, Mastelotto’s playing is neither simple nor indulgent, Pipitone’s guitars bend and flex much like Adrian Belew, and LEF’s vocals hypnotize. And that’s not even the strongest track: that honor goes to album closer “Someone Waits,” a slow burner led by a great cello performance from Jo Quail. Or possibly “Deadly Bite,” which might be one of the most menacing tracks of the year.

O.R.k. just may be the most underrated heavy prog band going. Screamnasium marks their fourth solid outing, and in fact, might be their best yet. Their unique blend of prog, metal, alt-rock, acoustic, and more combined with the disconcerting yet charismatic vocal arrangements will keep listeners coming back time and again. And each time we will hear something new in each song. New gems combined with a desire to keep listening to the whole album equals a Great rating in my book, and it should in yours as well.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Kscope
Websites: orkband.bandcamp.com | orkband.com | facebook.com/O.R.k.band
Releases Worldwide: October 21st, 2022

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