The intensity has increased across Into Orbit albums – and with the duo involved in other projects, most notably the melodic death metal group Dark Divinity, it makes sense that the ‘ambient’-setting has some real oomph behind it. I think back to that brilliant debut album, it was a cautious first toe in the water in a way. Those were different times (2014). Where did five years go?
Well, in 2017 Into Orbit released Unearthing, which built on Caverns’ slow, meticulous pathway and had extra urgency.
For this year’s new release this is a band of seasoned pros now. And certainly you feel both that and an existential world-weariness on six-minute opener, Shifter. There’s nothing but metal here, no post-metal about it (beyond it being instrumental). There’s hints of Iron Maiden in the guitars even. You can’t get more classic-metal than that.
Between Stars kicks off to a proto-march as a scurrying guitar intro gives way to a surging riff and the snare-pattern is shifted to the toms. It’s almost like the very best of Joe Satriani’s mid-period work reimagined for metal fans. There’s a wonderful build towards an eventual melodic guitar solo.
It’s not until third track, Crystallise that we get the overtly familiar strains of Into Orbit’s ambient-metal flavor; Ian Moir’s drums providing the template, doing the maths almost, certainly building the foundation for Paul Stewart’s post-prog guitar motifs. He’s almost crocheting counter waves of sonic ideas to crash up against the cymbals and toms. By starting heavier before falling back to the default-setting Into Orbit have not only delayed the inevitable they’ve shown actual growth, some change to the settings and sound. When we hear this it’s like the best moments of Caverns and Unearthing combined.
There’s a brutal sludge to Summoning’s opening crunch. And then an odd-meter explosion of guitar against drums.
Nil is the shortest piece here, at under two minutes, it’s basically a bridge between Summoning and Emergence and has hints of Metallica’s classic “blues”-influenced intros/outros.
Emergence is something else altogether for Into Orbit. It’s like two of the key vestiges of Led Zeppelin (Bonham’s big fills and Page’s guitar orchestrations) have been excised from that band and placed in an all new context. No bass. No vocals. There’s something elegiac about this piece. Yes – in the tradition of the band’s work, many songs climb a hill and then move across it and down the other side. And that happens here. But it’s outro, in particular, is haunting.
Burial Mask fits with the feel of Unearthing’s tracks and some of Caverns’ louder moments; again it’s to the Satriani-era of shredders riffing – but with the power and creativity of a live drummer in explore-mode.
Kinesis has Into Orbit in a sinewy mode, and a tougher philosophy seems to be emerging. Seasoned players now, as I mentioned, and with other avenues they’re exploring musically, but there’s something more stub-nosed in a lot of the tunes this time. And I like it. I’ve sat with this album for a while. Taken my time. I liked it on first listen. Of course. I’ve enjoyed all of the band’s studio work and every live session I’ve been to – but there’s something they’re seeking out here that is tougher to nail down.
Don’t dismiss this as more of the same, or as anything resembling diminishing returns. This is tough and closing track, Horus, in particular, is a diamond-cutting beast of a thing. Raw riffage and a double-pedal drum workout eventually falls away into a wide-open space for hard-rock groove-exploration. Into Orbit has always had song-breakdowns. But you feel and hear (and almost see) them roadside, in repair-mode, rebuilding the songs. Horus takes time out within itself. Then comes back fighting harder than ever.
I’d say that’s true of Kinesis in spirit overall. It’s tougher to pin down. And with time it’s all the more rewarding because of that.
Into Orbit remains one of my favourite bands operating in the post-rock/ambient-metal space.