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The Orb Featuring David Gilmour
Metallic Spheres
Original U.K. pressing 88697760441
Format: Vinyl (two 180 gram lps at 45 rpm) 
WARNING: the label mistakenly indicates 33 1/3 rpm

Review By Claude Lemaire

 

  The vinyl edition of Metallic Spheres is as much a treat for the eyes as it is to the touch. Here the vinyl enthusiast is well rewarded with a beautiful high gloss gatefold double album. The artwork is minimalist and elegant while retaining a distinctive front cover look that distinguishes it from its CD counterpart. Light blue and red hues adorn the violet background instead of the plain black background of the CD. Opening up the jacket we are greeted by two black spheres resembling 11 inch LP's again printed on high quality carton finished in superb gloss. Also a 12x12 inch tripled folded paper insert sporting the silver metallic spheres graces the innards and could be displayed 'widescreen' as a wall poster if one wishes to indulge further in this 1970's ritual for full nostalgia's effect.

Each record is housed in its inner carton sleeve; the first in silver, the second being a black 'twin' with color matched labels respectively. All very logical and classy but purely on protective issues one would have wished for an extra soft layer for the delicate vinyl (of course many audiophiles will simply use or add their favorite inner sleeve/liner). Both pressings were stiff, flat, shiny, black and beautiful to look at; one can predict with confidence that the cutter head had fun modulating 'the dark ice'. These are not your father's K-TEL'S with 30 minutes/side and a low cut switched at 70 Hz! Apart from some very minor 'tics' heard on the right channel midway through Side 2 of LP01, both vinyls were dead silent, equal to any good 'Audiophile Pressing' and far from the noisy crap we used to get lps every now and then from the U.K. 10 to 20 years ago.

Metallic Spheres - Take One
"If I could slow down the wheels of time"... well dear friends not knowingly, that's exactly what I did upon first listen at least.

Wow, talk about reaching down deep in the bass, I never thought my system played so convincingly in the lower registers! A bit lacking in air I kept saying to myself but later on, doubts started to emerge when a very sluggish voice ask me "If I Believed...?" I mean who am I to question Columbia / Sony Records when they print 33 1/3 rpm on all four label sides; surely they wouldn't make that kind of mistake...or would they? After listening to the entire album immersed in the deep growls of what sounded like a throwback to a 1995 Doom Metal / Ambient hybrid I can safely confirm that yes they actually f^<ked up the speed labeling. It is 45 rpm!

At least I'm not alone I know a friend who did the same thing; only he never tried it at the correct speed, enjoying the "originality" of his new found discovery, The Orb that is.

Metallic Spheres - Take Two
At the correct speed, gone is the Doom and Gloom to make way for a journey in sound that resembles what would happen if Pink Floyd cross-pollinated with Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream circa 1971-75. Add a teenie bit of early Vangelis and more modern fare to the mix and you get a pretty good idea of the offspring and continuity of the Kosmic music influence in the Ambient and Electronica scenes of today nearly forty years later.

LP01. METALLIC SIDE
Side 1
My first thoughts were Pink Floyd goes electro with Gilmour's distinctive electric guitar, rekindling The Wall (EMI Harvest) and Wish You Were Here (EMI Harvest) flashbacks before the 4/4 thumping rhythm engages. Near the end an uninspiring voice ask if we "Believe". I found this first side good but nevertheless the weaker of the four, music wise.

Side 2
A nice warmer sounding electronic kick drum - richer than the one heard on the previous side - accompanied by Marcia Mello's acoustic guitar on the opening track "Black Graham" sets the stage for a more captivating voyage.
A melotron sounding "ah" makes a brief appearance. This side also brings a new twist with Gilmour adding pedal steel guitar to the mix; original and not encountered very often in the context of Ambient and Electronica, think Animals (EMI Harvest) and side 2 of Led Zep III (Atlantic) for mood effect. A generous amount of echo (no pun intended) is added to the guitar; soon Indian vibes follow suit producing a cyclic impression with what sounds like sitar and tampura drone in the background though none are listed as such in the credits. Chimes also come into play, unfortunately these sound digitally compressed. The piercing synths seem digital and can be quite aggressive in the highs.

Fortunately the slow pounding beat reenters, augmented by flanger effects while a panned sequencer exploits the multi layered soundfield. At this point sonic memories like "One of these days" off of Meddle (EMI Harvest), as well as Rubycon, Blackdance, Albedo or even Oxygene/Equinoxe come rushing to my mind. Towards the end the steady pounding beat intensifies, taking center stage and gaining weight leaning heavily towards boominess in its final meters.

Enjoyed much more this side for its improved sound and musical creativity.

LP02. SPHERES SIDE
Side 3
The trip continues with a very interesting and mysterious intro. Good, deep, solid punch is featured in the prominent beat. Although the sound quality is pretty consistent throughout the album and more so from Side 2 on, sonic wise this would be the high point of the project. The concept album theme is reinforced with the recurrent question "If you believe in Justice, in Freedom, Stand up for Human Rights" and this time around, the delivery is more compelling. The outro leaves us with a hint of Dub followed soon by guimbarde giving us once more the pleasant feeling of heading to another destination.

Close to "demo material" especially on a big rig.

Side 4
The last side does not disappoint and conveys a more groove oriented feel by way of a quasi acoustic drumset in the distance, marking the 4/4 meter in a "huge room"; kick, hi hat, snare and ride working out together. It almost sounds like a modified sampling of an old Fresh Aire/Mannheim Steamroller! This part was strangely interesting in my first listen in 'slow motion'   33.3 rpm I might add. The synths are a real treat in the highest treble as well as the deepest lows immersing oneself in the layered sound waves. A large gong signals the finale.

The Sound
The lacquers are mastered and cut a bit loud and slightly compressed but no more so than most Electronica fare at 45 rpm and way much less thankfully than the majority of Dance, Pop, Rock and Metal. There is no listener fatigue like I described in my Arcade Fire review. Dynamic range is thus adequate though not as impressive as other recordings can be.
On the other hand the frequency bandwidth is well exploited, especially so in the nether regions testing many systems 'low reach'. Equally commendable is the balanced mix and the fine sound layering's by Engineers Youth, David Nock, Michael Rendall and Tim Bran in keeping our interest from start to finish whichever turntable speed you choose to explore. No mean feat!

Conclusion
Metallic Spheres, The Orb's tenth studio album shows that the pioneers of (neo) Ambient along with the 'granddaddy' of Atmospheric Rock are still relevant to a newer generation as well serving as a bridge with the previous one.

 

 

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