Perhaps time passes differently for John Dwyer. The Oh Sees frontman has always seemed to operate as though his days are hurtling ahead faster than for the rest of us. In 2013, he announced an indefinite hiatus for his band, only to return a year later, releasing four more studio albums in three years under the ever-shifting Oh Sees moniker (formerly OCS, The Oh Sees, and most recently Thee Oh Sees). And that’s to say nothing of all his work outside it. The band’s hastened output has been, by and large, mirrored in its musical aesthetic this last decade: frenetic, psychedelic garage rock, full of screeches and noise, played at such a clip that Oh Sees often sounds like a band trying to outrun itself.
The expansive, wandering Orc—with its pastoral arrangements; long, proggy jams; and heavy-metal guitar licks—represents a relative change of pace, fully exploring the band’s heavier, ruminative sounds amid more familiar tics. (Dwyer’s favorite move remains letting out a high-pitched yelp before laying into a guitar-fueled freakout). “Animated Violence” begins with sludgy, Sabbath-worthy guitar and talk of a head-crushing warrior before settling into an organ groove and Dwyer’s reverbed whoops. Medieval imagery and swirling synths bloom on the whispered “Drowned Beast,” while drummers Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone duel within a space-prog jam on closer “Raw Optics.” “Keys To The Castle” gets especially contemplative around the two-minute mark, opening up into six minutes of gentle keyboard and melancholy strings.
While it was never lacking in Oh Sees’ previous albums, there’s an especially satisfying cohesion and movement to this, the band’s 19th studio LP, that makes it particularly enjoyable when listened to from front to back. A trio of songs on Orc’s latter half offers an especially strong progression: the organ-driven, Pink Floyd-esque “Cadaver Dog” through the fuzzy, effects-filled “Paranoise,” into the chill comedown of “Cooling Tower,” with its Can-like drum licks and fat synths. Throughout, Oh Sees punctuate their peregrinations with expertly placed guitar riffs and shrieks, which keep the talk of castles and beasts and coffins from getting out of hand, and the instrumentals from feeling too digressive. It’s a good balance of moods and sounds—a welcome trot from a band more inclined to sprint.