One of the funniest/awesomest things about googling a band you know is seeing their Internet personas when you do a Google search and getting to know that said personas are about 60% true. Yes, my buddy Ryan is a great drummer whose musical sensitivities and talent are, in a word, epic--But then there's the fact that this is a guy who I get sloshed with on a regular basis, so it's hard to take the super-cool-rockstar-guy Google Image Search Results of he and the other guys in Oriya seriously. When we've fallen down in front of each other and he's seen me puke out of a cab on 6th, it's hard for either of us to still be the super-cool-rockstar-guy in the room without giggling like little girls.
Before we begin, I want to put out there that I'm going to be as objective as possible given that I know this band and have been drunk/stoned/hanging out and being all domestic with them in the past. And given that the lead singer's girlfriend might be making one of my wedding cakes.
I know the dangerous place that objectivity can go to when you review something a friend creates, be it music or writing or art or whatever. So I do ask, gentle and mostly anonymous readers, that if it feels as though my objectivity has strayed form the path and is somewhere over in Narnia with Mint Berry Crunch where it's being silly and nonexistently fictional, that you leave me a comment and let me know that I'm totally full of shit.
Now, on to the music at hand.
With roots firmly planted in mid-to-late nineties prog. rock, Oriya's first full-length release feels a bit like the soundtrack to an indie action flick from said era. There are intense highs, mellow lows, and a steady pulsing theme of struggle beneath every song. Maena's voice is strained on some tracks, and not because he's vocally at a loss, but because the mood is one of fighting to be heard. The ominous bass, slowly building drums, and melodic synth effects add to this sense of faith through hopelessness. Think of some of the Smahsing Pumpkin's earlier, more intense tracks like "Rhino" and you'll find an apt comparison.
Musically it's nothing that we haven't heard before, but it doesn't feel tired or played out in the slightest. Even though these are emotions that have been discussed musically and lyrically before, it's the pairing of matching vocals and instrumentals creating that moody effect that give you the sense that the band is one hundred percent sincere in their efforts. Tracks begin slowly with tortured sounding vocals and build and build until a tremendous crescendo where the drum lines sort of take over and smash everything to bits. In this way it's reminiscent of some of the bro rock that we were all subjected to in the early 2000s, where usually stoic and serious guys just wanted to be mad about stuff and sometimes scream their feelings. This, however, is much more enjoyable to listen to for the simple fact that the tracks have actually been composed musically first, lyrically second. There's a real caring touch to each verse in each song; you can tell that nothing has been thrown together for the sake of filling the record.
Standout tracks on the album are most definitely "Never" and "For a Day," which is interesting as they represent two opposing sides of the same idea. "Never" is an anger-laden, volatile, throw-yourself-against-the-guy-standing-next-to-you track that showcases some impressive guitar skills on Aris and Maena's part as well as the length and breadth of the band's vocals. That sense of struggle is no more so evident than on this track. There's a sense of giving in; or perhaps wanting to give in and let your troubles turn you into that emotional wreck if only so that you can have that sense of release.
"For a Day" is the polar opposite. It's the optimistic version of this idea; the whole "it's always darkest before dawn" thing. The drums are muted, the melody is softer, and the sense of anguish is replaced by a sense of peace. "I still believe we've been through it all/but it hurts to breathe/it never seems so small," is the repetitive, stand-out line in the chorus. That sense of struggle ever present in all of the band's lyrics is still there, but this track is the pick-yourself-up moment on the album. It fades out beautifully, releasing the listener with some truly harmonious string plucking and synth.
What Oriya has done with their full-length shows remarkable skill and promise. Some of the content feels old-hat, but the way the album in its entirety has been put together shows a band really trying to give its all and show that while some of the music might seem moshy, it's moshy with a conscience, damn it! Either way, it's a refreshing take on a genre filled with a lot of repeats and do-overs.
Go Download: "Intruder," "Never," "For a Day"