Review Summary: An utter masterpiece.
The Orb is one of those electronic groups that started off very strong and then descended into a black hole of utterly mediocre and/or borderline terrible releases (Metallic Spheres, Bicycles and Tricycles). Their first album arouse in 1991 with The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
which was a huge success and went on the charts for being one of the best ambient house concept albums ever made. With songs like, Little Fluffy Clouds, and, A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld, there was no doubt that their intentions were to send us to other universes and explore the cosmos, especially since there is almost two hours’ worth of trippy otherworldly chill-out, but also danceable and fun material. In 1992, they released their second album entitled UF Orb
which, while it wasn't nearly as long or as sporadic, received almost the same recognition as the debut. It was just a fantastic trippy and cosmic 70+ minute long epic ambient / house album.
And then they made this
One can determine what an album might sound like based on the cover given. The cover looks to be an odd yellow illusion-esque formation of the letter “O” – signifying The Orb – and a map of an old land form. My first assumption was that this wasn't going to sound like the previous albums. Just by looking at the cover of the album, one could tell that this should be, at least, a very interesting listen.
This is an album that took everything that they did in the past - with the exception of Pomme Fritz
, with that being much more to the style of this album - and completely abandoned it. While the albums previous this one sound spacey, cosmic, danceable, bubbly and straight-forward, this album sounds absolutely nothing like them. It sounds down-to earth – however, very atmospheric and “larger than life” - instead of in spacey, especially when the some titles of the songs relate to landforms with songs like Valley, White River Junction, and Plateau. This album is ridiculously random; however, it attains a rich natural and alluvial sound. Compiled with massive song lengths with many transitions and different instruments swimming in sound, it is no surprise that this album is going to gain an audience; an audience that can have the patience to accept these beautiful eccentric songs - or as I like to call them “passages” – and have it swim around in your thoughts. To completely explain and comprehend the utter beauty of this album would take eons, for this album is perhaps one of the most influential electronic albums ever made.
The first song on this album is called Valley. It starts out almost as if the track is halfway in the middle of the song. It sounds absolutely nothing like anything they've ever done previously and it is brilliantly put together, much like every other song on this album. With the abrupt sound of the machines to start of this seventy minute epic journey through sound and time, the song quickly escalates into a series of samples and weird, but beautiful, sound effects almost like echoed firecrackers and water pipes. The song, sounds as if you’re travelling through a mechanical jungle surrounded by large mountains that are constantly changing in size and shape. This continues for 7 minutes and the song ends with a wispy synthesizer pattern and drones into the next song called, Plateau. Plateau starts off, weirdly, with a voice sample:
And now, folks, for an old familiar favorite. We've had many requests for this. It’s a simple little sentimental song and I certainly hope all of you sentimental folks out there are going to enjoy it. Ready, fellas? Let’s go
That delayed sample would get stuck in anyone’s head on first listen; I know it has stuck in mine ever since I bought this album. The rest of the song is phenomenal. For a 13 minute song that, pretty much, repeats throughout with little changing, it is extremely engaging with a unique natural-sounding rhythm and every little ambient sound and detail being perfectly executed and beautifully atmospheric. While one would think that a song so long would get boring and repetitive after a few minutes, this just gets better and better. The song comes to a halt around the 7 minute mark as it gets very quiet before the storm. Around 9 minute mark it escalates into a climactic rhythmically beautiful and smoggy passage ending with a sombre hush and ghostly cricket sounds. Oxbow Lakes is one of the more random songs that starts out one way and ends completely different. Starting out with an oddly timed repeating piano line, a weird drum pattern and echoed “water pipe” like sound effects that simmer in the background engulf the track and it continues down this weird and unconventional road finally ending with an eerie ambient and calm synthesizer after 7 minutes. This sounds as if it is in a large washing machine with every part of the song hitting you with its soapy and bubbly sounds. Another thing to note about this song is that it is the only song on this album that doesn’t lead into any other song.
This is where the album takes an amazing turn and it is utterly beautiful, but odd, trippy and random. Montagne D’Or (Der Gute Berg) starts out this marvelous journey through sound with an odd reverberated voice sample quickly changing into an airy ambient passage with some beautiful steel guitar sounds. Wispy and weird sound effects envelope this passage and give it so much atmosphere. The song takes a switch for the best as it changes up around the 4 minute mark and builds up almost like a post rock song as we hit the most climatic ending in any piece of electronic music. Loud an unsettling drums blare into the eardrums of the patient listener around the 8 minute mark as the track descends into utter chaos with weird synthesizer bloops and bleeps completely destroying the song. The song ends after 10 minutes with a loud pop as we lead into one of the calmest songs on the album, White River Junction. The song starts out with more echoed sound effects and quiet synth pads along with voice samples giving out subliminal messages about listening to the radio. It stays ambient for a good 3 minutes, and then turns into a mechanical and trippy IDM song pretty fast. A “wompy” bassline, so to speak, surrounds the song and contributes a lot of atmosphere on this track and makes one think of a factory with different machines working their gears.
This is where the album just turns utterly and completely random and a little bit frightening, but beautiful. The song Occidental is the closest song on this album to sounding anything at all like their previous work and even then it is really weird and psychedelic. With a mutated house beat spurting out weird and awkward drum patterns, the song changes many times and has some of the greatest moments on the entire album; most notably the start of the 2 minute mark and the late 6 minute mark with its wompy and bassy sound effects. The album becomes a bit unsettling and a bit scary at the end of the 13 minute song with weird synth sound effects that sound like a robot going crazy and also creepy voice samples that just encircle the song.
Our final track comes to a complete change as we’re introduced to a song called Slug Dub, which is, by far, the best song on the entire album, and perhaps one of my favorite songs of all time. This song should be treated like a book. Essentially the song is about a family that wants to make some lettuces for dinner for when their son Tim – sounds like a girl in the song - comes home, but when they get to the garden, the slugs are eating all of the lettuce! They try just about everything: shooting them, telling them to go away, but they laugh at them – the laughing slugs in this song are hilarious – and continue to eat all of their vegetables. When Tim finally returns home, he brings a friend along with him who is willing to eat all of the slugs because he/she is hungry for meat. The family is very pleased that Tim’s friend ate all of the slugs and invites him to come over more often. This story is so hilarious and vivid as it is told gradually over this 17 minute epic psychedelic dub masterpiece. The song is very calming with a euphoric synthesizer and drum beat encompassing the entire song. The song - like every other song on this album - goes through multiple very trippy and weird changes and as we reach an end to this euphoric masterpiece, we’re left scratching our heads wondering what the *** just happened.
This album is so unique and different from almost every other electronic album that it is almost impossible to categorize what it even is. Every song is completely different from the last, it doesn’t sound a single thing like their predecessors and is completely random, capricious and unpredictable. The way how it keeps you guessing what is going to happen with every minute of it is phenomenal. Even though it sounds as if everything on here is really random and impossible to make patterns of, it manages to stay consistent and relevant to the overall mood and feeling of the album. The album takes one through many wild rides and journeys; it arrives with its arms just waiting for one to hope aboard. It allows you to travel through an imaginative synthetic earth searching for the answers to life. For these reasons, The Orb have managed to create one of the most beautiful, creative, imaginative and mind-bending electronic albums of the 20th century. It may take many listens to fully appreciate and completely adore it, so I am imploring you to do so. Orbus Terrarum
is one electronic album you do not want to leave out of your music collection at all.