Orthrelm – 20012

By Craig Haze

20012 is the new EP from the mind-bending Orthrelm. At just 14 minutes long, and comprising a mere two songs, the recording is the first new material from the avant-metal instrumental duo of guitarist Mick Barr and drummer Josh Blair since a split single provided a brief burst of noise in 2006—while the band’s last full-length, OV, was released way back in the halcyon days of 2005.

Prolific they are not. But guitarist Barr has been rather busy with black metal virtuosos Krallice, who’ve released three phenomenal albums—including 2011’s hugely acclaimed Diotima—so I’m inclined to forgive him. Of 20012‘s two songs, “Washp (mine)” and “96”, only one is new, written in 2010, while the other, a track from 2006, has not been released before. I’d love to tell you which is which, but given the nature of Orthrelm’s particularly idiosyncratic racket, it’s impossible to tell, and ultimately it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

Recorded in January this year at the New York studio of fellow Krallice member Colin Marston, 20012 is challenging, intense and completely unorthodox. At 14 minutes long it’s a lot easier to process than the 45 convulsion-inducing minutes that comprised OV‘s grinding math-rock and avant-jazz shredding insanity. (If you’ve not heard it before, seek it out. Love it or hate it, it’s a true test of your mettle.)

“Washp (mine)” gets into things straightaway, with Barr throwing out the ringing notes in a maddening frenzy. Rolling over and over in a tumult of repetitive shrillness, it’s irritating, bizarre and totally addictive. Barr drops in few slowpoke riffs late in the song, before running off into some free-jazz dementedness and ending on an upbeat-blackened swell. It’s wildly eccentric, and psychotically turbulent.

“96” doesn’t make things any easier. With Blair banging out a militaristic cadence, Barr goes into shred overload. With shrieking notes threatening to overwhelm, he adds in some punchy stop/start dynamics, which, to be honest, are well needed, before working this way through torrents of dissonance to end on a crisp farewell— and a faint yell of glee from the background.

Unless you’re a fan of seriously left field guitar pursuits from the likes of The Locust or Boredoms, or you happen to play the solos (and only the solos) of The Dillinger Escape Plan on endless repeat, then you’re bound to find Orthrelm extremely testing. It is, essentially, an avenue for Barr to strip-mine the possibilities of repetitiveness, irascibility and impatience by delivering endlessly circuitous riffs in the most berserk fashion possible.

Orthrelm appeal to that side of your nature that makes you recheck you’ve locked the door 10 times and pick at scabs best left alone. It’s obsessively intricate, maddeningly torturous, and absolutely brilliant. The very best thing about 20012 is that it’s just two bite-sized chunks of noise to digest. A full meal of Orthrelm is likely to leave you feeling nauseous and disorientated at the best of times, so if this is your entrée, it’s a good a place to start. Bon appétit!

(Available at orthrelm.bandcamp.com)


Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.