What’s to like?
Collaborative project featuring members of Porcupine Tree and King Crimson, who’ve come up with music that’s different and distinct from those bands, but perhaps lacking an identity of its own?
The low down
One of the great things about automatically buying each new album released by a favourite record label, is that you never quite know what you’re going to end up with.
I’m rather fond of the independent Kscope label, with its diverse roster of artists and progressive outlook, and over the last few years I’ve trusted their judgement and simply pre-ordered every new release announced. I rarely read the pre-release promotional blurb or click on the social media trailers, and instead, so that each new album feels like a trip into the unknown, and keeps my appetite for music refreshed.
This can be particularly fun when the album is by a band I’m completely unfamiliar with, and such is the case with O.R.k., who’ve just released a new album entitled Ramagehead. (And no – I have no idea what the title means!).
I’ve done a bit of digging around, but there’s not much info on the band out there, other than promotional text for each of their three albums, and a brief potted background history. Which is actually kinda cool, because it means the listener simply can simply focus on the music, without the usual distractions.
However, I have to own up to the fact that the group’s line-up did catch my attention beforehand, as it includes drummer Pat Mastelloto who currently drums with King Crimson, and more interestingly, Colin Edwin, who was the bass player for Porcupine Tree.
Since that band went on indefinite hiatus, the other members have all resurfaced in one format or another, still with the Kscope label. Steven Wilson has developed a well-respected solo career with the likes of The Raven That Refused To Sing, Richard Barbieri released Persona + Planets, and Gavin Harrison released Cheating The Polygraph (and now plays alongside Pat Mastelloto, as part of a three drummer line-up in King Crimson!)
By comparison, it feels like Colin Edwin has been content to remain quietly in the background with lower profile solo projects, until now. Ramagehead is his first bona fide album on Kscope, although this is actually O.R.k’s third album since 2015.
The album has been pitched as a supergroup project, but in reality it feels more like a genuine collaboration amongst musicians, with no one player dominating the music. The four man line-up is completed by Italian singer and composer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari, along with guitarist Carmelo Pipitone from the band Marta Sui Tubi.
The album was written on the back of a recent tour, presumably with the band having gelled as a live act and wanting to recapture that identity in the studio. Edwin explains that “We wanted to harness the power, unpredictability and spontaneity of the O.R.k. live experience into a static recording whilst aiming for a high-resolution sonic space that can be revisited repeatedly by the avid listener to discover ever deeper layers.” (Try explaining that one to a casual record buyer…)
Anyway, here’s the official trailer for the album:
The group don’t consider Ramagehead to be a concept album, but concede that the music does have an underlying theme about the uncertain times we’re living in and the constant information overload that we are all subjected to in today’s media environment.
So what does all this amount to?
Well, it doesn’t sound anything like Porcupine Tree or King Crimson, or even particularly progressive. In fact, the music has more in common with the likes of alternative rock like Soundgarden, with the vocals sounding uncannily like Chris Cornell in places. The music also shares a similar production sound, with the bass and drums being slightly held back in the mix to produce a flatter sound. At times I felt I wanted the bass to reverberate more and the drums to kick a little harder.
Edwin’s bass is present in the sound mix, but for the most part simply and quietly holds down the rhythm in the background. And if you listen closely you can hear Mastellotto applying lots of interesting percussive flourishes to his drum parts, but again the drums are not as prominent as you’d expect for a project like this.
Pipitone brings the heaviness with his guitar, running off riffs or pedal effect drones as needed, but keeping it all wrapped up within the structure and mix of each song, and rarely breaking out into anything like a solo.
Fornasari’s vocals are an essential part of the mix, coming across clear and distinctive, and I had no problems making out the lyrics, but they don’t overwhelm the music.
The album as a whole is well mixed with everything sounding like where it needs to be for each particular note and beat, and you won’t have to reach for the volume dial – it’s mastered at a nice level so that you can hear all the dynamics.
It’s always refreshing to hear a collaborative group come up with music that sounds nothing like the bands the players have come from, but the problem here is that nothing truly stands out after a couple of listens. It’s the sound of experienced musicians pooling their collective talents, and it’s all in service of the songs – no one is showboating – but I’m still looking for that killer tune that sets O.R.k. apart from other bands.
The label have been pushing the track Black Blooms, featuring a guest vocal by Serj Tankian. See what you think:
Perhaps Ramagehead needs more time and listens to reveal hidden depths, but it doesn’t strike me as that kind of album. The music is heavy and direct, and makes an immediate impact – it just doesn’t leave a lasting impact.
But I’d certainly give it a try.
Oh, and the album’s artwork is designed by none other than Adam Jones, guitarist with Tool. (So now you know why it’s taking so long for that band to get its next album together……13 years and counting.)