With thousands of bands popping out of the soil, it becomes difficult to determine the worthy plants from the weeds within first glance. While I foolishly passed over With Our Arms to the Sun's previous two releases, I am now aware of my naivety in labeling them as yet another spacey sludge band. The Trilogy and A Far Away Wonder albums are representative of the group's growing phase leading to be the point of fruition in their musical abilities showcased on Orenda. As I dove into the heavy atmospheres of this album, it became clear that the act is on their way to reach the heights of other groups of their style.
The main factor that I would contribute to my confidence in this group's inevitable rise is their flirtation towards post-metal without fully committing to the debatably niche subgenre. Their music commonly holds alternative rock attributes that would seem too tame for the likes of Neurosis or Isis. Although the group's atmospheric and sludgy tendencies are shared with many other large acts within the subgenre's scene, the fact that their songs sometimes contains catchy hooks is certainly an innovative new development. I believe it is for this very experimentation that the band attracted Melvins' Buzz Osborne to co-produce this release.
Opening track "Disdain – Why Am I" reveals a large span of influences with the sludgy riffs of early Mastodon, rough vocals alike Helms Alee, a vocal melody similar to Deftones, and a Tool-esque instrumental interlude. Their progressive and melodic approach to sludge metal continues on "Memory – The Drift" with soaring high vocals and fuzzed-out Smashing Pumpkins guitar effects. The amalgamation of multiple metal styles is impressive on its own, however the inclusion of an uplifting aura to a subgenre defined by melancholy and anger proves to be the most forward-thinking aspect. "Macrocosm – Prometheus" is another highlight due to the same successful musical meshing.
Throughout the album, there are a few two-minute transitional tracks acting as the glue holding the other seven compositions together. Of the three, "Doorway to Ascension" stood out for its piano work resembling a Pink Floyd ballad. The momentum transfers to "Apex – 100 Year Dream," an uphill battle of distortion and on forth to "The War – Light the Shadows," which features provoking chanting.
Not only does this album feel dynamically intelligent as it makes leaps of faith in differing heavy styles, but With Our Arms to the Sun also develops a lyrically provoking record. The concept behind the LP revolves around Orenda, which refers to the Iroquois tribe's belief in a supernatural force within everything, and the process of the character established in the album discovering such. The track titles grasp at topics of nature and human concepts that infer a level of progress, evolution, or greater understanding that the implied protagonist experiences in the assumed journey. It seems as though many bands nowadays are taking the route of the concept record, but when the music actually parallels the thematic direction, that's when I believe there is integrity behind the concept.
The reason this album works so well is With Our Arms to the Sun chooses not to settle for the minimum. The group meshes rock, alternative, and sludge metal to strive against stylistic complacency. Regarding constructive criticism, there are some moments where the guitars feel restrained. The slow build-ups hold weight for an explosive climax and when the guitar production is held back, there's a bit of disappointment. Although I don't believe Orenda displays perfection, the emotional, tonal, and musical quality is consistently exceeding expectations and redefining the limitations of subgenres to a magnificent degree.