Orbit Culture – Descent

*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #45 of the SBR Album of the Week.

Every year produces one metal band that receives more hype than a Don King heavyweight, and often the artist in question enjoys their brief moment of attention before the tastemakers move onto the next big thing and leave them behind. So far, 2023 is the year of Sleep Token. Last year it was Lorna Shore; before that we had the breakout success of Spiritbox. Yet behind the frontrunner is always a group whose future looks assured. They also generate hype, but the quality of their art is obvious to everyone. It’s neither divisive nor content to retread old ground. That band for 2023 is Swedish death metal quartet, Orbit Culture, who formed in 2013 and now enter the critical phase of their career with album number four.

Orbit Culture must be doing something right to earn the gushing endorsement of YouTube influencers such as Tank the Tech and respected institutions like BangerTV. So, what is it that makes a melodic death metal band so special all of a sudden? Well, the answer might lie in the band’s emancipation away from Sweden’s most packageable style of heavy music. If Orbit Culture are a melodeath band, then, Northlane are a djent band. Like the Australian innovators, they might have started in a saturated sub-genre, but they can no longer be defined by it.

The key to Orbit Culture’s evolution is their founding member, Niklas Karlsson, whose vision and vigour as vocalist and riff-slinger brought them to this point. Those who enjoyed the band’s 2021 Shaman EP will salivate at the mouth after one listen to the thunderous pulse of ‘Black Mountain’. A finger-tapping guitar pattern soon gives way to a crushing metallic groove with blockbuster sound effects right from a Roland Emmerich film. Listen how Karlsson growls into the microphone like a bulging-eyed psychopath. This could be Septicflesh, but with a makeover from Gojira’s imperial phase of the mid-to-late 2000s. The modulation at the three-quarter mark to a darker and more sinister passage of transcendent Tool rhythms will leave you with mouth agape. It almost overshadows the glorious triumph of the chorus, which Karlsson repeats as if reciting his favourite James Hetfield refrain from the Black album.

Clearly, the Swedes decided that they should let the chunky guitar riffs be the focus of their musical rituals on this record. ‘Sorrower’ thrives on a muscular mid-tempo powerplay with a stunning use of contrasting guitars in the bridge and a surprise chorus uplift that wouldn’t sound out of place on an album from English metalcore favourites, While She Sleeps. It makes full use of its six minutes and thirty seconds to branch off into a bone-shaking thrash assault with double-kick skank beats, yet it also resets for an Ennio Morricone finale of clean guitar thrusts and choir harmonies. It’ll leave you intoxicated in the rays of a silver mist, just as ‘From the Inside’ might abandon you to the depths of a frost-covered labyrinth. Your job as the listener is to find a way out of this metaphorical prison on the coattails of the Orbit Culture juggernaut. Here, mystical clean guitar passages built around hammer-on and pull-off techniques make way for a monstrous down-tuned dirge of zapping harmoniser pedal effects. Karlsson’s chorus delivery is his finest on the LP. You’ll want to punch your fist through the moss-covered ceiling as he roars, “And it all crashes down from the inside / And it all crashеs down on me / You’ll see through ice / But you cannot reach it.” It’s even more remarkable that this song changes the dynamic of the second chorus rendition to a Moonspell lamentation. How they resurrect it from here and then end it in the stride of a Rammstein goosestep is beyond comprehension.

Like any great album, Descent understands that no two songs should be the same, yet none should deviate too far away from the core aesthetic. ‘Vultures of North’ takes the drop-tuned grooves into classic Metallica territory but laces them with the drum triggers of Fear Factory. The vocal lines are as percussive as the snare hits. A chorus chant barks at you like a military instruction from a German SS commander from Hell. ‘Alienated’ takes the stomp of Norwegian death metal fiends, Blood Red Throne, and teases a macabre vibe from its arsenal of maximum damage riffing. Look no further than ‘The Aisle of Fire’ if you want an example how to mix extreme metal with heroic rock posturing and dramatic surround sound effects.

The fact that Orbit Culture can envisage a heavy metal thunderdome where Metallica, Gojira and Fear Factory co-exist like a triumvirate of judges opening a bloodsport event is testament to their confidence. ‘Undercity’ flinches with a strain of dissonance before it establishes its stride with a gurning guitar riff for the bench press. By contrast, the title track is an industrial death metal blast for the treadmill. Here, the guitars jab in onomatopoeia with Karlsson’s abrasive vocals: “The descent into madness is all I see, and it’s all I’ve seen,” he declares with a grimace. The palm-muted guitars will batter your head like the giant hailstones of a Colorado storm.

Ending the album in a solemn dig of the soil with ‘Through Time’ is the perfect way to bring things to a close. Those of you that cling to Draconian Times by Paradise Lost as the forgotten masterpiece of the 1990s will not forget this one. Hark the poignant words of the lyrical protagonist: “Follow the white bird, she’ll show you / Now go, you’ve stayed here for too long.” It’s a remarkable way to bring the curtain down on forty-eight minutes of imperious metal.



Release Date: 18/08/2023

Record Label: Seek & Strike

Standout tracks: Black Mountain, From the Inside, Undercity

Suggested Further Listening: Gojira – From Mars to Sirius (2005), Fear Factory – Genexus (2015), Septic Flesh – Communion (2008)