Into Orbit: Caverns
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer shuffled off this mortal coil back in 1860, but not before leaving heartwarming maxims about life like this behind: “Human existence must be a kind of error … it may be said of it, it is bad today and every day it will get worse, until the worst of all happens.”
Now, obviously, Schopenhauer wasn’t exactly a laugh riot. Although, like a lot of his philosopher pals, he’d clearly have made an excellent doom metal lyricist. Still, as depressing and bleak as Schopenhauer’s forecast is, we’ve probably all felt a similar sense of futility and despondency when contemplating our own lives at some point. That’s why we have art and music, right? At its best, it helps us rise above the mundane. It helps us cope with our most miserable days too. And, for some of us, it shatters our world-weariness, by immersing us in more enlivening spheres.
Caverns, the debut album from Into Orbit—an instrumental duo from Wellington, New Zealand—is a great example of music that does all of that.
Into Orbit features Paul Stewart on guitar and Ian Moir on drums, and the band’s sonic template draws from the world of experimental rock and metal. Elements of Into Orbit’s sound will be familiar if you’re a fan of New Zealand bands like Kerretta, Jakob, or How to Kill, and no experimental rock band can escape the influence of New Zealand’s late and lamented High Dependency Unit (aka HDU).
Aside of New Zealand bands, Into Orbit are likely to appeal to those who enjoy work from those artists based further afield, like Mogwai, Pelican, Russian Circles, Explosions in the Sky, or Mono. Similarly, Into Orbit seeks to evoke moving narratives via textural suites. They inject unorthodox time signatures into songs that counterpoint sweet-tempered and stentorian passages. And they ignore strict genre guidelines, combining post-and-progressive-rock and post-metal, with a touch of drone and ambient elements added on.
Sound good? Of course it does. However, if you’re a fan of such rock/metal/experimental hybridisation, then you’ll be aware there’s also one slight issue with instrumental bands that fall into that category. With no vocal hooks, instrumental bands have to work hard to build a connection with their audience. Unfortunately, while many feature highly proficient musicians, the music they create is often characterless—and it’s hard to tell some of those bands apart from one another.
I mean, music like that might be fine if you’re looking for some background noise, but undistinguishable bands like that don’t have any long-lasting presence. Thankfully, Into Orbit avoid that mistake by bringing a strong sense of their own personality. And they clearly appreciate that if you’re telling a story with no voices, every track you record has to serve as its own distinct chapter.
Certainly, all of Caverns’ songs tell their own individual tales. Album opener, “Corridors… Caverns”, is nine-and-a-half minutes of crashing crescendos mixed with haunting ambles. The song sounds massive, and expensive, as do all of Caverns’ other tracks. “Corridors… Caverns” isn’t simply an impressive introduction to the album in musical terms. It also underscores that it takes real artistry to create meaningful ambience—especially when there are only two members in the band. As a whole, Caverns is a testament to Stewart and Moirs’ cohesive songwriting, and their musical chemistry, and throughout the album Stewart wrests sounds from his guitar that conjure up imposing landscapes, galaxies above (of course), and giant, hulking structures.
Stewart interweaves overdriven guitar lines with melancholic strolls, ratcheting up the tension on tracks like “Aphelion”. The diaphanous start to “Perihelion” gives way to soaring guitar detonations and crashing percussion too. On Caverns’ fourth untitled track, Stewart and Moir blend both beautiful and monolithic shadings into drone, and Moir displays plenty of expertise behind the kit on “Set Adrift” as well. When that song’s weightier and chugging chord progressions kick in, it’s that interplay between Stewart and Moir—where they balance density and space—that impresses most. The same can be said for the trudge and trample of “Towers”. Moir adds the crucial tonnage to Stewart’s sludgy riffing on that song too, but obviously, heavy guitar and intricate percussion aren’t attributes solely unique to Into Orbit.
The band send songs tumbling from one summit to the next, battering as much as they envelop, and their nuance is contrasted by bursts of brute power. However, plenty of other bands of Into Orbit’s ilk do the very same, and what sees Into Orbit succeed in capturing your attention is their astute handling of dynamics. You only need listen to “Creeping Vines” to appreciate that the band have a clear understanding of how to lure the listener in with unfurling arrangements, and then, crucially, how to hold the listener in the song’s thrall. Throughout Caverns, Into Orbit sketch out plenty of attractive architecture for us to admire, but it’s still up to us to invest in their songs, and find that all-important release we seek. That’s why the contemplative tenor of Into Orbit’s songs is just as important as how they counterpoint blown-out dirges with fragility. It shows a welcome awareness from the band to ensure that their songs aren’t just technically adept, but also emotionally rewarding.
In fact, that’s where Caverns’ real payoff lies. Stewart and Moir’s talent as musicians is obvious, but getting caught up in music that traverses jagged peaks, dives into musical maelstroms, and takes you on more blissful treks across the cosmos is what counts most. It’s not only the impressive scenery along the way that appeals, it’s the desire to buy into the voyage, and accompany Into Orbit on their journey.
Caverns has all the grunt, grit, and delicate moments that’ll satisfy fans of post-rock and metal. Into Orbit’s sonic expertise, exploration of musical boundaries, and their confidence is all very apparent on the album too. However, what matters most, is that Caverns is one of those albums that encourages you to stop, shut out the pandemonium of everyday existence, and listen. It’s the kind of album that’ll help you transcend the monotony and misery of Schopenhauer’s world—or, at least, it’ll assuage your spirit before the very worst inevitably does happen. Those are all the hallmarks of music that truly matters, and there’s no doubt that Into Orbit have ascended into that realm on debut.
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