(Featured image credit Merisa Lynne)
Orenda n. [aw-ren-duh]
1. A supernatural force believed by the Iroquois Indians to be present, in varying degrees, in all objects or persons, and to be the spiritual force by which human accomplishment is attained or accounted for.
“A dormant potential to create exists within all human beings. It unconsciously binds the species at large. Most people just never unlock it. With Our Arms To The Sun examine that precious and potent power on their 2016 full-length concept album, ‘Orenda’. Painting in hues of rock, alternative, and metal, their cinematic sound blankets a curious canvas of Arizona Desert, weaving together a sonic journey to self-actualization for the quartet – Josh Breckenridge (vocals, guitar), Joseph Leary (guitar, programming), Joseph Breckenridge (bass), and John McLucas (drums).”
“Orenda is that hidden power inside all of us,” says Josh. “The character in the album is discovering it. You can’t really transcend your own ego, shadow, or bullshit unless you make a connection with what whatever that obstacle is inside of you, eliminate it, and move past it. That’s what the new music is about.”
One of the great joys of writing about music is following an artist from their early beginnings, fumbling around, learning how to make their music better and more involving and seeing how they progress album on album.
I get a real buzz and satisfaction from seeing some of these artists mature into incredibly talented bands and individuals who create some of the most impressive music to be heard today.
One such band is Arizona’s With Our Arms To The Sun, a quartet who create cinematic experimental music from the middle of nowhere in the Arizona desert. I have been a long time fan and supporter from their first album and have become friends with main man and guitarist Josh Breckenridge, enabling me to get early previews of any new music.
In early 2016, the group retreated to Los Angeles with a batch of demos and began pre-production on what would become ‘Orenda’ with legendary the Melvins founder Buzz Osborne. Josh and his bandmates holed up in a rental house “in the middle of nowhere Arizona” to track the music. They emerged with the 10 songs the comprise the new album.
This powerful band create epic soundscapes through the use of instrumental music but new album ‘Orenda’ sees them take a step into the unknown by adding vocals to the music. Could this be a step too far from what they have become known for or a logical evolution that sees them move to the next level of their career?
The opening track Disdain – Why I Am opens with a suspenseful gusting of wind before a humoungous riff crashes the party and blows any cobwebs from your psyche. Joshes anguished screams outlines the protagonists frustration. There is a real torment in the earnest vocal that follows, punctuated by that ever present riff, big enough to move mountains. The clever touch is the way the whole song just puts the breaks on with some really chilled out, mystical feeling guitar and bass, almost meditative in its delivery. There is a real feeling that this band made the step up to the big leagues with the quality of this song and, for a man who is no fan of growling vocals, I feel they add rather than distract to the whole experience. A pretty impressive opening it must be said.
A quite eerie guitar opens Memory – The Drift and the vocals have a dreamlike quality to them as they gently tread on your mental synapses and lull you into a quiet sense of security. It doesn’t last long as another riff hewn from solid granite blows away the mirage with its intensity. The vocals are more like a rhythmic chanting and give an aura of native mysticism to the song before a raw scream emerges from the depths. The track rolls along like an unstoppable force of nature, punctuated by periods of calm and reflection, allowing you to get your breath back. The vocals begin again, ardent and impassioned, backed by the incredibly powerful rhythm section and the arcane blasts of Josh’s intense guitar work, incredibly compelling music that demands your attention.
After the huge walls of sound that comprised the first two tracks, the mellow and reflective tones of Doorway to Clarity are a complete contrast, like a two minute break to get yourself together and contemplate how much the band have grown and developed with their new sound. It is deliberately thoughtful and a really chilled out piece of music.
First track released from the album Macrocosm – Prometheus relates to the character realising that he’s a piece of something bigger. It opens with a laid back feel as it begins to build. The guitar is expressive in its minimalism, an impression of a wide open space is conveyed by the vocals and music, an infinite blackness punctuated only by the stars. Hold that thought as the guitar takes on a harder, aggressive edge and the vocals become more like a chant, the hypnotic effect of the guitar takes over your mind and you begin to lose yourself in the vagaries of the intricate music. This is quite a demonstrative song, there is meaning and subtle definition in the music and it builds into a really brilliant song that leaves you nodding your head in appreciation. I especially like the way the song settles and closes out with the understated guitar at the core.
(Picture credit Melina Dellamarggio)
There is a real pathos and wistful note to Doorway to Realization, an emotive track and another two minute hiatus of composure. It has touch of 80’s electronica to my mind with the elegantly haunting piano that echoes in your mind, backed by Josh’s stirring vocals.
Considered and deliberate, Apex – 100 Year Dream opens at a leisurely pace. The vocals are low down and full of meaning before that immediately recognisable guitar sound takes over with another sonic powerhouse of a riff. I’ve tried to stay away from the ‘T’ word with this review but I really do get the feeling that these guys are channelling their inner Tool on this album and I say that because I honestly believe that they deserve comparison with bands of that calibre. The incredibly intense instrumental section that follows really does blow your mind and Josh’s vocals take on an angry edge. The elaborate and sophisticated music moves between the all encompassing dark heavy parts and the freedom of the lighter sections to create something totally immersive.
A native chant opens The War – Light The Shadows and leaves you feeling like you are in the middle of a sci-fi movie. There is a subtle build up as the song progresses, the hushed vocals combining with the understated music to create an air of mystery. This erupts into an authoritarian mantra with a potent riff driving it on. The music stops and the dominant chant continues to great effect before the all-powerful music takes over, the drums a particular highlight. This is a commanding and influential track that really delivers on the promise and just takes a step back into calmness and composure to close out stylishly.
The third quiet oasis ‘doorway’ is Doorway to Ascension a delicate instrumental that overlays spoken word to leave you ruminating on the whole theory of existence and life, the universe and everything in an introspective fashion.
Regret – Sailing Stones at the start is like an oasis of serenity and calmness, gentle guitars, subtle drums and Josh’s softly delivered vocal but it is only temporary before it erupts into a dynamic track full of raw aggression, screaming guitars and belligerent vocals as if the weight of the world is on its back. These two polar opposites survive in a musical world of juxtaposition challenging you to take sides in an urgent conflict. Another imposing song that feels like a force of eternal nature.
And so it comes to an end, the closing song Homebound – March of the Trees has an aura of finality to it, the conclusion to a journey of self-discovery and one that we have been privileged to bear witness to. Once again, a low key opening belies what is to follow, the forces of nature lead in an evolving guitar note that has an edge of suspense to it, only added to by the measured drumbeat. Josh’s chanting vocal has a world weary feel to it before it becomes an anguished cry full of a pensive melancholy. The whole track opens up into a huge panorama of sound occasionally allowing itself to become pared back before the pained aggression returns. This terrific sonic assault on the senses eventually closes out leaving you open mouthed and numb.
This is heavy and experimental progressive music from artists who are nearing the height of there already impressive powers. They create songs that ebb and flow between the intensely dark and the incredibly light and it is utterly addictive. With Our Arms To The Sun are an elemental force of musical nature, unstoppable in its voracity and deserve to be mixing it with the big boys and, on the strength of this incredibly impressive new release, they will be supping at the top table very soon!
Due to be released April 2017
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