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Waste of Space Orchestra Waste Nothing on “Syntheosis”

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At last. Waste of Space Orchestra constituent bands Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising have both played with prog throughout their discography, and both of them now feel more prog than metal — it seems, though, finally in the arms of each other, that they have buckled down and delivered a pitch black prog rock opus called Syntheosis. Admittedly, this brand of prog comes via the twisted storytelling of Cultes des Ghoules, a similar group who plays black metal as a dosing element to their winding prog epics, the same way a group like Genesis played classical and folk music as elements for their own before. It is easier to imagine Waste of Space Orchestra, then, as a dark and heavy cousin to groups like Magma, Focus, and Eloy than it is to imagine them as an expansive and programmatic partner to Darkthrone or Mayhem.

It is fitting in a number of ways. Oranssi Pazuzu were only really fully committed to black metal in their early/middle days, growing more and more interested in psychedelic music (including prog and space rock), while Dark Buddha Rising have always played a form of doom and sludge that drew just as much from the rich history of Scandinavian progressive and avant-rock as it did from metal. Both groups seem to have always viewed both styles of music as lobes to one greater idea rather than separate spaces, able to transition between punky directness and proggy elaborations and Krautrock-inspired unwinding as needed moment to moment.

It is no surprise then that, in another bilobed pairing, a black metal and a doom metal band of such persuasions would work so well together.

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It’s worth making this delineation because it wildly affects what you get from Syntheosis. Approached as a piece of contemporary metal, even as doom metal, the album feels lacking: it is rarely as riff-driven as either band’s work, and even when Waste of Space Orchestra rips and pummels, it doesn’t feel precisely like metal. Approached as Pinkish Black-style prog (or perhaps one of the heavier excursions of Acid Mother’s Temple), though Syntheosis really opens up. It is, of course, a concept album, as any self-respecting prog record should be (and just like the idiom demands); the concept itself is inscrutable and superfluous. What matters in these types of conceptual spaces is more that an organizational logic was applied to the songs both in composition and sequencing, so that they might move as one great big gesture rather than a million small ones.

Taken as a dark and heavy prog record, Syntheosis delivers in spades. You could easily see it performed alongside other dark prog groups like Van der Graaf Generator, Anglagard, Anekdoten, or Signify-era Porcupine Tree. There is a glistening throb to its nine songs, calling to mind the similar post-Can pulse of Varahtelija even. It is worth noting that Syntheosis feels more like a continuation of Oranssi Pazuzu’s progression into psych-prog’s nastiest, darkest, heaviest material than a proper contribution to Dark Buddha Rising’s discography. The reasons for this are two-fold: 1) Oranssi Pazuzu have released a full studio album most recently, with the last Dark Buddha Rising record arriving in 2015, and 2) this is actually the second collaboration of the groups after the psychedelic freakout that was Atomikyla’s Keraily. Atomikyla, a supergroup made up of two members each from each group rather than the full lineup of both, was more in line with the psychedelia of Dark Buddha Rising and felt more than anything to be the big push behind Oranssi Pazuzu embracing krautrock, psych, and prog as the new central components to their sound to then be inflected with black metal rather than the other way around.

Despite the pitch-black psych-prog spiritualism of Syntheosis, which less soars than plumbs the depths of the widening gyre of the disintegrating soul, it still carries on it the stench of heavy metal. Sure, it’s a spice more than the central dish, but there is a certain gnash and snarl to the guitars, a timbre to the deep bass drones, and an array of squirreling synths that calls to mind some of the post-psych metal workouts of groups like In Solitude, Tribulation, and even newcomers Devil Master, albeit more focused on the weirding fringes of these sonic ideas. Tribulation, the most popular of those bands, dialed their experimentation inward to craft immediately canonical songs; Cultes des Ghoules, the more outlandish and bizarre but also resolutely accomplished, flew more afield with this style of songwriting, hurling themselves to the unfurled outer limits.

Waste of Space Orchestra place themselves somewhere in-between, marrying both darkness and precision to their roaring and dark prog rock rather than spending too much time lost in the hinterlands.

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When listening to the record, the relatively short song lengths feel immediately apparent; this record is made to be played in sequence from front to back, with no real singles in the design. What results, then, is an hour-long psychedelic journey, one of writhing worms and neon strikes of lightning that seem somehow darker than the surrounding sky. It is a richly imagistic piece of music, feeling less rationally driven by clear concept and lyrics than propelled by dream logic and emotional sequence. Syntheosis — a fitting name given that it’s a combination of “theosis” (“making divine”) with “synthesis” (“combination”) — feels like a spiritual journey to a realm of pure and abstracted concepts, through which the sounds of the two bands bend and bleed together until, in the finale, they are left in some simultaneously wretched and beautiful simultaneity.

Both Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddah Rising are enough involved in metal to recognize the spiritual vectors and images of it are inseparable from the larger project; also, though, they are too smart to play it wholly straight. These spiritual spaces are more blueprints or archetypes to tell more broadly human theological tales — the theological is phenomenological after all, the unverifiable out there in the world of matter but resolutely real inside in the mind and the heart. So, fittingly, this is where Syntheosis tunnels and dwells. It’s more Campbellian in its mythic arc than Biblical, and it’s better for that; the psychedelic journey works best as an inward path than some hokey hippie-ish exterior activity anyway.

Despite not precisely being metal, it is hard to imagine, at least right now, another metal band putting out a heavy record as rich, wide, and compelling as Syntheosis. It does everything great metal or prog is supposed to do: it shoots wide, aims for your widescreen and richly internal pitched emotional core, and delivers an album-length statement of intent. It is also, by a head and a shoulder, the best record produced by either Oranssi Pazuzu or Dark Buddha Rising, and makes a strong case for both of them remaining in the shortlist of best contemporary metal bands.

Syntheosis released last Friday via Svart Records. Follow the band on Bandcamp.

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