It’s a near impossible task sometimes to fit a certain band into a genre. It almost makes me feel cheap to label them like that, to take such a wondrously intense creation and put a name to it, it’s akin to taking a stunning wild beast and caging it for all the world to gawk at like a mere specimen. OK, maybe I’m romanticizing it a bit here, but when an album so huge sounding such as the third release from Need, Ovram: A Song for Home, comes to my attention and proceeds to shake everything I’ve come to know and love about the myriad genres of music I enjoy, I am at a loss for words. Though humility decries that I keep my peace and just enjoy the gift, my duties to the fans of progressive rock and metal must take priority. It is for that reason that I will now try to put some sense of understanding to this stunning concept album.
First off, let’s meet the brilliant group of musicians who make up Need. The band has its roots in Athens, Greece, and was formed in 2004 around guitarist Ravaya. The rest of the line-up was solidified by 2006 in time for their debut release, The Wisdom Machine. For this release along with Ravaya in the band are Jon V. on vocals, Anthony Hatzis on keyboards, Victor Koulobis on Bass, and Stellos Pashalis on drums. After The Wisdom Machine, they released a second album, Siamese God, and in the intermittent times shared the stage with a slew of brilliant bands including John Olivia’s Pain, Threshold, Slipknot, Symphony X, Candlemass, and the mighty Iron Maiden. The band spent the last few years recording Ovram, which was mixed by Neil Kernon (Queensryche, Nevermore) and mastered by Alan Douches (Mastodon, Shadows Fall).
There is a spoken word line in the sixth track that somewhat holds the center of the concept behind this album, “How do you keep on living when every day is exactly the same? I’ll tell you what I’m doing, I’m trying to live, and not to leave.” There is a certain, distinct vibe of desperate entrapment that runs through the album, that of a man who is at a loss in a world he is trying in vain to step in accordance with. The first track, Lifeknot, cannot make this any plainer. A beastly grinding track, the band jumps right into gritty chords, hitting on the lower levels of our heartstrings in preparation for the rough and powerfully soulful vocals of Jon V. This guy drips the pain and agony of his subject matter in this number, and the music is a chaotic construct of it as well, the bass is pounding, the drums crashing succinctly. The guitars shear right through our top layers, opening us up for what’s to come, “I’m heading downwards, these chains rip my skin.” There is no sunshine in this opening folks, it’s a bleak picture that too many people live in a constant state of. Need does provide a little hope at least, and the first taste comes in the second track, Ethneogen.
Now Ethneogen is defined as a psychoactive substance used in religious or spiritual contexts. There is a tremendous amount of spiritual overtones in this album, ones which I related to what I am familiar with, the cultures of the Native American tribes, though similar stories can be found worldwide of cultures lost to the ravages of progress. Now where Lifeknot was a straightforward rumbling beast of a song, Need explodes all over the scope of genres in Ethneogen. A soaring ten plus minute number, it takes its roots in a long progressive epic, and laces ethnic tones along with a serious metal edge to create something brilliantly unique. The battle between the trapped individual and the spirit crying to be free is so palpable in this, the almost pagan tones celebrating the spirit breaking through, only to be smashed back down by the harder, more metal edges. I am in awe of the brilliance within this song, and this was my second favorite track on the album.
Ethnogean is followed by a trio of crushing tracks, the first being Symmetrape. This is a bleak, heavy number with a desperately sincere pleading tone to it. The crushing guitar and bass chords are relentless, and the whispered spoken word segment followed by the growling “One tear will bring the flood” is downright haunting. Mother Madness is a slightly quicker paced track, though still deep and hard. The spirit is on the edge of breakdown here, the last reservoirs of restraint are slipping away, “Home is so far away, mother save me.” Rounding out this trio of crushers is Construct, and it follows right in step with the sense of hopelessness being built, yet this is the track where they start to bring the dilemma to a breaking point, highlighted by a brutally fierce and stunningly brilliant instrumental section. I needed to smoke after it, no kidding. Next is Hotel Oniro, a subtle spoken word piece backtracked by subtle keys. It’s a man and woman, possibly having a post-coitus philosophical discussion about the desperate entrapment life keeps us in. It’s a brief but brilliantly thoughtful look on the dilemma, and leads perfectly into the epic of the album, the eighteen minute Ovram.
Orvam opens with an almost spiritual chant like segment reiterating the trapped feeling of the album. As they dig into the song, Jon V.’s vocals carry a harrowingly deep undertone, pleading his desire to abandon the norm that he is imprisoned by. Again, the band breaks all the rules in all the right ways, taking on a prog epic structure and laying everything just perfectly on it. They really lose the mechanical shackles of the prog metal norm, but don’t ever settle into the softer, hippy like tones of the more standard prog rock. They find a spot right between the two, and pour on the intensity in thick layers. As to the theme of the album, there isn’t a real resolution to the dilemma, but more a resolve to not stay in the same hell. Whether they are talking about a culture or an individual, they resolutely admit that something needs to be changed, or, as alluded to in Hotel Oniro, even the grace of love will lose its feeling touch. The song finishes with solemn piano touches, and an even solemner spoken word segment, and though I don’t understand the language, it left me shaken.
The whole album did that to be honest. Its power and deeply soulful message are stunning to say the least. The message, interpreted through my own feelings and experience, really rang deep within me, and musically it was portrayed in a near perfect manner by all members of the band. I anxiously will be waiting for another installment of Need, but in the meantime, I have a backlog of music to catch up on. Time for a complete discography purchase my friends, Orvam: A Song for Home has more than earned it.
Orvam: A Song for Home can be purchased at http://needband.bandcamp.com/album/orvam-a-song-for-home