October 6, 2021 — Norwegian trio DROTT’s debut album ORCUS is a fascinating, memorable, and stylish journey through multiple genres all the way to the underworld and back again. Released in late September, DROTT’s LP invokes the works of Inon Zur’s Fallout and Alexey Omelchuk’s Metro soundtracks alongside the post-rock cinematics of Explosions In The Sky.
“ORCUS is a fantastic record throughout and one the musically inclined, fans and listeners in general, should not miss.”
While DROTT’s previous release, the EP S/T, builds atmosphere using traditional horror elements in conjunction with metal, ORCUS often eschews that tradition. Avoiding horror, for the most part, this 39-minute album-marvel typically plays more with noise and chaos, rather than building suspense with its absence. Not to say that the horror is totally gone but instead is placed purposefully before climactic moments in order to draw the listener into the chaos.
This is no more evident than on opening track ‘The Lure’, a soft, enthralling siren call. The plucked guitar arpeggios feel almost like a lullaby in unison with the mermaid-like haunting vocal melody. ‘The Lure’ is not only trying to grab your attention but also to draw you into a false sense of security. The song tightens its grasp before seizing you by the neck and throwing you into the wasteland composition of ‘Caerdroia’, a maze of strings and grinding guitars.
THE CORE OF OBSCURE
‘Katabasis’ is the longest concoction on the album at seven minutes but it never feels tiring. It begins with a building sense of atmosphere and adventure, using the string section and the metal guitars to plant listeners right in the immediate nature of the story. DROTT does not stick to what it knows best and instead starts experimenting as soon as it can. As ‘Katabasis’ walks on, the metal soon turns to an almost disco-like groove with some distant calling vocals reminiscent of a 90s indie band. Not content to settle itself in a single sound for too long, some overdriven guitar shifts the tone again, adding some chaos before shifting into the next track, ‘The Strait’ which is a jazzy, moody, and mysterious piece. Its bluesy and chaotic guitar work brings to mind Final Fantasy VII’s slum city Midgar through the eyes of a detective noir thriller by the sea. Slowly building, the lurking drone, high set strings, and (surprise) throat singing takes listeners quickly out of that seaside resort into the darkness of ‘Psychopomp’. Best described as a chaotic monster of a track, unfocused, messy, and noisy before the powerful, almost hopeful melody shines a light, the throat singing becoming more a groan of pain before allowing some respite.
A calm before the storm; ‘By The Lunar Lake’ offers whistled melody combined with oriental strings and soft humming that feel like a fusion of spaghetti western theme songs coupled with a red sun setting over a contented and soothed Shaolin temple. It is an odd yet welcome distraction before ORCUS descends further into intensity. A peace grating metal and creaking wood interrupt with ‘The Marauders’ (a track that was released as a single earlier in the year which we wrote of here that has since mysteriously been removed from DROTT’s Bandcamp page and seemingly also from Apple Music, although it still lingers on solo on Spotify).
THE HIGHEST POINT OF HORROR
‘The Marauders’ is truly the horror point of ORCUS. Its trembling drums, shaky breaths in the instrumental, and screeching of what sounds like a saxophone only adds to the unease before the guitar starts pounding away. Also, there is a bit of a storyline presented on DROTT’s Bandcamp states,
“Escaping the savage Marauders, Grey Gull ascends, restoring tranquillity and strength before DROTT’s final descent through The Arch of Gloom.”
Though ‘Grey Gull’ is the one piece on the album that does not belong, it is calm and lovely — as if someone swapped ORCUS for a relaxing day at the spa. The song feels out of place, especially as ‘By The Lunar Lake’ followed by ‘The Marauders’ does such a great job of making you at peace before pulling the rug out from under you. Combined with the opening of ‘Arch Of Gloom’ it feels like DROTT was trying to repeat the themes of ‘Lunar Lake’ and ‘Marauders’ but without success.
Bringing us to the end of ORCUS, the quickly tapped hi-hats of ‘Arch of Gloom’feel amazing. The track is not quite as gloomy as its title suggests though the somewhat mariachi-inspired Spanish licks add a fun flair to the whole thing. The title track ‘Orcus’ puts an end to the fun with the opening drone of dread, reincorporating the wailing vocals of ‘The Lure’ before an intense drum fill transitions into a crashing metal riff that would feel at home on any metalcore album. The ridiculous drum fills on ‘Orcus’ are further used to dictate the ever-pressing urgency of the track as opposed to a change in dynamic until the almost heroic Avengers-like strings bring the album to a close. It is a satisfying end on every level, bombastic, defiant, and triumphant.
Out of 10
- DROTT displays a mastery of environmental storytelling and an incredible depth of musical knowledge.
- Impressive sense of atmosphere throughout the record.
- With great blend of genres that are perfectly paced, Orcus run time is spot on and an experience well worth having.
- The song ‘Grey Gull’ feels out of place, especially in consideration of DROTT’s Bandcamp storyline.
- Possibly too musically adventurous for some tastes.
It would be so easy for DROTT to stick to what they know best. ORCUS could have been a horror-tinged instrumental soundtrack but instead, the incredibly talented three-piece band take the time to show off their music knowledge. With everything from metal and cinematic orchestration to influences from more worldly music and jazz, the album does a lot with its run time and rarely misses.
With highlights like ‘The Strait’ and ‘Psychopomp’, it does not matter that ‘Grey Gull’ feels out of place — despite the Bandcamp storyline — because ORCUS swiftly picks up the pace again and delivers a tremendous ending. There may be better cinematic works out there but there are none that bring DROTT’s deep understanding of genre, atmosphere, and love for their artistry. ORCUS is a fantastic record throughout and one the musically inclined, fans and listeners in general, should not miss. Without a doubt, it delivers a post-apocalyptic feel that cannot be beaten.
Independent musicians work hard to make money. Many do not break even but instead end up spending their hard-earned savings to follow their passion knowing the chances for success are slim. With that in mind, you may want to consider supporting DROTT by purchasing their physical CDs, vinyl, and select merchandise from ByNorse and also get their super-high-quality digital music from Bandcamp.