[schema type=”review” name=”Ortega – Sacred States” description=”Label: Consouling Sounds, Narshadaa Records, Tartarus Records” author=”Sarp Esin” pubdate=”2016-10-28″ ]
Sludge metal isn’t an exact science, it’s more like a slow ritual, and Ortega are here to dance, or rather sway, to low tempos in the darkness. Let’s chant.
Sludge is not anyone’s game, because most permutations of it require a certain appreciation for a glass ceiling where tempo is concerned. The genre is known for: snail-pace arrangements that push the slow burn; doom-like riffing; songs that exceed ten minutes in length almost by default and; a preoccupation with an almost arcane sort of nastiness that leads to incredible and incredibly dark atmospheres. Also, no clean vocals whatsoever. Ever.
The music found in Ortega’s Sacred States is basically all that, except they are not just a run-of-the-mill sludge act. They take the more atmospheric and less abrasive route, which works in their favor.
One of the first noticeable things about Ortega is that their sound is clean, that is, in a production sense – an oddity in a genre characterized by its ability to produce “filthy” sounds. Rather than to play with various degrees of fidelity, Sacred States comes complete with a clean, almost glossy (not to the point of being overproduced) sound that allows for them to weave their foreboding atmosphere’s in high definition. However, this approach sacrifices impact, hard hits to punctuate the moods because the drums are pretty much buried in the mix and so ring hollow. This is particularly noticeable with the fills that appear often but do not satisfy, but the kick drum is the worst offender, as it all but disappears during heavier passages, leaving the snare and cymbals to sort of keep rhythm in the void.
While that may take away from the album overall, Ortega manages to cover it up gracefully with excellent songwriting. Where that’s concerned, Sacred States is pretty much exemplary. This is borne out of necessity, as only two tracks run shorter than 10 minutes, and out of the two, only “Descending Ladders” is significantly shorter (“Maelstrom” clocks in at 9:47.) The songs here are arranged carefully and are very good in terms of how they flow within themselves: for instance, the opener, “Strong Eye” is a tangent song, to a t, and a very good example thereof. It begins, builds, goes on an extended tangent only to return to where it began, and it does it seamlessly enough that you feel like you’ve been taken on a wonderful journey and it must end where it began.
The same thing does not apply to the album as a whole, however, not since “Descending Ladders” is an exception to this impeccable flow both in itself and within the context of the album – it disrupts everything to such a degree that it’d work better as a closer to another album, or could be removed from this one altogether without affecting the album much. Furthermore, “Crows” does not work as a penultimate track at all. Clocking in at just under 20 minutes, it’s a massive undertaking that Ortega clears through with finesse, full of push-pull passages and parts that lead to one another and moods that shift and bend and weave; it’s basically the peak point of Sacred States. Because of that, the closer, “Void” feels completely unnecessary, for just having followed “Crows.”
More than anything else, Sacred States is an exercise in love/hate. You’ll hate it, then love it, then hate it again. It’s an album that rewards patience. If you have none and you want to be immersed in something immediately, then it doesn’t work, since the songs tend to evolve, sometimes with very small changes in any given part. An immediate reward isn’t something that quite exists here. Even with delayed gratification, what Ortega offers with Sacred States is a very specific groove, a very particular mood and so it won’t always hit the mark.
In short, this one is not without its flaws, but a good sludge album it definitely is, and it’s well worth a listen.
Richard Postma – Vocals/
Alex Loots – Guitar
Sven Jurgens – Drums
Frank de Boer – Bass
01. Strong Eye
03. Descending Ladders