There are few things in life better – as a music reviewer – than when you have high hopes for a second (or subsequent) album and those high hopes are met, and then exceeded. Such is the case with album number two from the duo Into Orbit. I can’t hide – nor would I want to – that I have been a gushing fan. Debut album, Caverns was (and is) hypnotic and mesmerising. I still listen to it – a lot; still get caught in its sway. I still turn up to see them play as often as I can. And so, half a dozen times over the last year, I heard one or two of the pieces on this new album in embryonic form; saw as extra shadings were offered, could hear the songs being filled out.
The first thing I wanted to say about Unearthing is that where Caverns felt like a drum-heavy album, this one is more about the guitars. But that’s not quite true – and maybe that’s because of the dynamics, the fact that all of this music – so huge, vast, complete – has been created by a duo. It’s a two-hander yet again – just as there layers and liquid-textures of guitar on the first album there are polyrhythms and fills that, were they to be visually transposed, might end up looking like a plumbing diagram. But where Ian Moir’s drums rattle and thrive, provide the foundation and colour as well as the drive, Paul Stewart’s guitars are a bigger, blunter weapon on this release. There’s more attack from him, it’s more of a riff-based collection. Where Caverns hinted at prog – and even folk – textures and ideas, Unearthing is about metal’s surge, it’s about the big, proud rock riff. And all the better for it.
It could never be just Paul’s album – the way Moir stirs the pot with everything he’s got on the closing Gilgamesh is proof alone that this is very much a drum-album too – moving from Octopus-like fills to military precision to a crash-cymbal stomp this has a ‘bigness’ that goes deeper, darker and beyond the mighty work on Caverns.
It’s all put in place early on, with the opener, Dark Matter, giving us the swirling textures that find their best descriptor, still, in post-rock. But are building, the whole time, to pierce through with a riff – there’s more agitation and urgency; the duo-sound so well developed now, honed across a couple of steady years of touring, integrating visuals and staying so faithful to that debut album that now, with new material we can feel the colours and hues almost instantly. It’s a visceral experience listening to Into Orbit and Unearthing grabs hold of you by the very first hammer-wrist riff and doesn’t let go.
As a second layer of guitar soars over the jackhammer drums and riff – we’re off and away.
To Stone Circles next, again – another hint of the liquid flow and tone of the guitar but the dance across the hi-hats and the pound-in-your-chest bass-drum sets us up for something far more enormous. And Stewart takes his time, mapping out the familiar territory once again before seeking the unknown; all the while he has Moir in his corner, forever holding down the fort.
The pulverising crunch of Stone Circles only arrives at the very end, Into Orbit has a better grasp now of tension/release, of building and building until the payoff.
Again, this is an album built piece by piece, made to play in order, created as a challenge for the players to replicate live (I’ve already heard them do it; they knocked the bastard off).
Next slow hill climb is the start of Scattering Light, a half-speed metal hangover, post-rock’s power-ballad that makes it up the mountain to find Stewart rolling out another giant riff-surge.
There’s anger and energy across the 8-minute Equilibrium and its sonic-chaser Caldera, there’s a darker angle yet again for The Archer; a touch of grunge’s metal instincts and then the title track which could be a business-card in and of itself for not only this album but the band’s sound; tracing the evolution of Into Orbit in a microcosm.
Blistering and beautiful, with so much heart and soul as well as a sheer force to it, Unearthing meets Caverns, gives it a hard rub on the head and asks it to step aside as it pulses on through. It’s the new dog at the water-bowl. But it knows where it came from, and how it got there. Caverns and Unearthing sit well on the shelf together. But this is a band that has managed a very clever trick – nothing obvious has changed in the sound (same sorts of song-structures, same instrumentation, the tight frame of two-piece, instrumental ambient-metal) and yet they haven’t repeated themselves. This has a life of its own. Gloriously so.