I’ve heard some great progressive rock and metal released this year, but not all of it in what you would call a great concept album. Instrumental newcomers Kettlespider gave it a fair old crack, Ne Obliviscaris showed what the word ‘epic’ really means, and now Sydney band Breaking Orbit has released it’s debut, self-produced, album “The Time Traveller”, with clear intentions.
For me, it’s not so much whether the lyrics of the songs tell a story, but whether the music as a whole takes you through different moods and keeps you engaged for the length of the record with a variety of sounds. I also want it to pass the earworm test – I don’t want songs that run through my head all day, I want them to be memorable but immediate. “The Time Traveller” successfully delivers the goods in terms of its composition and performance, the songs never getting bogged down or sounding the same, while at the same time weaving through common threads that ensure the record tells a story. It also delivers on an emotional level, not to the depth of say Adrift For Days‘ “Come Midnight…” or Laura‘s “Twelve Hundred Times”, but over a far wider range of emotions.
As for their sound, Breaking Orbit have clear influences from Tool, Karnivool and Dream Catcher but I often find more in common with the post-metal/post-rock of fellow Sydney band Meniscus (the chiming arpeggio guitar in particular) and Scottish band What the Blood Revealed. You’ll also find great tribal drum passages that remind me of ‘Dead Eyes’ by Guadalcanal Diary, but in the end these comparisons are all meaningless because the variety in elements is so vast that they really do manage to create their own sound.
One of the elements I enjoy most in the record is the drumming and the mix of the drums. Mark Tyson smacks out some great poly-rhythmic lines that sound so natural and unforced. At times delicate, at others powerful and fierce, they never fall into a trough. Even when joined by Dylan Mitrovich (guitar, mac, vocals and percussion) who adds great cyclic tribal rhythms at times, Tyson‘s variation provides that wonderful proggy complexity that keeps you from falling in a hole of mundane repetition. It really is some of the most interesting and progressive drumming I’ve heard in a while. Quite mesmerising.
Vocals are an important part of “The Time Traveller”, but they are another equal instrument rather than the lead that the others are there to support. Restraint plays a huge role – Matthew Quayle‘s vocals are strong but can be gentle, and he is equally adept at creating an ethereal feel as he is at singing with anger. It’s like people who always appear and speak calmly – everyone stops and listens when they raise their voice. Any additional vocals from the Mitrovich brothers are used sparingly, again maximising impact by their frugality. Vocal melodies are great and Quayle has a great sense of the difference between a songbird and a peacock. The lyrics themselves tell the story without being too literal and of course you won’t find verse-chorus-verse here.
The guitar and bass lines are intelligent with their roots in metal and apart from that post-rock sound I mentioned earlier there’s plenty of thundering chords and melody, while at other times they work well with the samples to create ambient passages. There’s also some wooden flute that finds its way into the record. Really.
“The Time Traveller” has a beginning, an ending and plenty of story in between. It’s so complete that after I finished the bulk of this review I went back and removed the song names – it just felt wrong to dissect it in that way. It’s a story of cautious optimism, of discovery, of fear, loss, despair, frustration and triumph. What more could you want?