A look at the names involved in Orbs might give you the wrong impression of what exactly the band does - the quintet falls under that unfortunate "supergroup" classification, and the members are originally from the likes of Cradle of Filth and Between the Buried and Me. Sounds like it should be a generic metal project of some kind, right? Well surprisingly, no. Orbs' debut, Asleep Next to Science, has far more in common with the Mars Volta than say, Opeth, but really can be traced back to each style on account of the heavily progressive approach they take to the songwriting process.
Falling Asleep's musical aspect is made up of a combination of styles in progressive rock both old and new. Megaloblastic Madness takes the Mars Volta at their most maundering and gives it a bit of structure, making the near eight minute ride engrossing without sinking into a sense of self-indulgent jamming. The bright power pop guitar flourishes of A Man of Science or the rolling piano intro of People Will Read Again put Muse's best efforts of the last four years to shame, managing to sound catchy while always building toward something, and more importantly, never feeling derivative of their influences. These two pieces also underline Orbs' highly narrative nature - the former track tells a story of a scientist so dedicated to his craft that he fails to notice his life falling apart around him, starting with his drifting from his wife and children, while Read is more metaphorical, describing children playing innocent little war games, complete with references to night raids, bombs, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Then there's the staggering fourteen minute closer, Eclipsical, which sounds like Rush's synth-loving period updated for the new millennium.
The centerpiece is the two song suite The Northwestern Bearitories. We the Animal and Kid Cancer do a great job of pairing blistering guitar work and crushing metallic sections with bright, almost bubbly ones that bring to mind Fang Island's self-description of "everyone high-fiving everyone." While Dan Briggs' guitar work is a stellar cornerstone, Orbs' secret weapon is unquestionably keyboardist Ashley Ellyllon. This project grew from cross country file swapping sessions between these two (not unlike the Postal Service's humble beginnings), and it shows - Briggs' parts are very much the foundation of each song, with Ellyllon's keys beefing them up with spacey textures and heavy piano-led melodies. There's just one thing which is guaranteed for some listeners to take issue with, and that's vocalist Adam Fisher. He has an incredibly nasal and high pitched singing voice, and it definitely takes some getting used to. However, this doesn't mean that the guy can't sing - far from it, in fact. He's startlingly capable with guttural growls (as Lost at Sea demonstrates early on), shouts, and even spoken word sections, and generally holds his own very well; impressive, considering the talent that he's fronting. While it may be grating to those not willing to lend a bit of patience, those who are will be quite rewarded, as he's very in sync with Briggs and Ellyllon, and his vocals lead the musical assault very well.
Asleep Next to Science is a fresh approach to the current incarnation of progressive rock. Orbs always feel in control of where their songs are going, and are constantly employing bright, catchy melodies to keep listeners interested in the complex song structures, and as such are able to avoid the typical prog pitfalls that many great bands have not (in some cases, have even openly embraced). If you've been looking for a great prog release, this just may be up your alley.