Why do certain artists resonate with you whereas others are grating or have no impact at all? I’ve always felt that resonance is measured in fractions and whether it’s a full orchestra or a three piece there are other external factors that bring a je ne sais quoi. Factors like the studio (Abbey Road, Muscle Shoals, Sun), the expertise of an engineer, a producer’s empathy and guidance plus the unheard – but still experienced – elements (e.g. Jimi Hendrix doubling the guitar riff in ‘Crosstown Traffic’ with a paper and comb or Jim Morrison added a whisper-lyric to ‘Riders on the Storm’). A fraction off on any of the components and the sound can be jarring or, even worse, bland. The whole, if you are lucky, exceeds the sum of its parts and in the case of Death Machine their album Orbit does this; at once being familiar, alien, old and new.
As their name does not suggest Copenhagen-based Death Machine are a laidback, cinematic band with high ideals and lo-fi leanings. Someone from a metal blog recently went to review their album having assumed that they would open up a dark metal world of screaming anger but it’s a testament to how good this band are that they loved it and still wrote the review. As with 2017’s Cocoon (the album that first introduced me to them) Orbit has at its core the delicate voice and Spanish guitar of Jesper Mogensen (“…the starting point for his songs ever since the first album was recorded in his kitchen”) and, as much as you can imagine these songs being performed solo by seventies troubadours such as Tim Buckley or James Taylor, what elevates this album to glory is the beautiful tension between the musicians. With Jesper are Morten Ørberg on bass, Sven Busck Andersen on drums and Simon Christensen on keyboards and they all serve the song and not the individual player to form a glorious, cohesive whole.
The title Orbit aptly sets the tone for this off-world journey aboard the Starship Death Machine. The opening track ‘Alien’ is one of many songs that achieve a tranquil canter; like an intergalactic cowboy riding across the vastness of space. Keyboards swell, background vocals swirl and the high rolling bass line and guitar hold everything together allowing Jesper’s tender vocal to sail through the middle. ‘Tied’ carries this theme on but starts with a musical overture that wouldn’t be out of place in a Biblical epic and features beautiful doubled-vocals and harmonies reminiscent of Kings of Convenience. ‘Someday’ begins simply with guitar and voice over atmospheric keyboards before becoming as expansive as time-lapse footage of a flower opening up to full bloom. Then there are tracks like ‘Maze’ and ‘Isle of Mine’ which click and whirr like an ancient hallway clock and have a sedate charm and an intoxicating serenity. These chime with the more stripped down songs on the album such as ‘Days’ (which feels like the sweeter side of Radiohead), ‘Moving Ocean’ (a space-bound José González) and the naked fragility of closing track ‘Ghost’, all of which visit the broader themes of the album “…being in orbit around something that you never come into contact with” and “…the image of the alienated human”.
Death Machine seem to have control over the dark matter that holds their universe together. They may investigate worlds that share a common ancestry with the likes of Grizzly Bear, The Montgolfier Brothers and Fleet Foxes but also manage to forge a powerful bond between earth-bound frailty and space-bound optimism. The overall sound of the album is the fifth member of the band (the whole definitely exceeding the sum of its parts) and it’s this alchemy that turns lead into gold and takes them from the kitchen to the stars. There are over 3 million parts to get a Saturn V rocket but Death Machine have it into space with only 4 musicians.
Orbit is out now on Celebration Records
Review by Paul F Cook