Call it a prog-spring. The Orb has poached plenty from ’70s-era progressive rock (space-age synths, 10-minute tracks, song titles so long they wouldn’t fit on Twitter), so it makes sense that on their new album, Metallic Spheres, they snag the guitarist from one of the few bands from this genre that escaped heaps of eye-rolling and mockery, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. Gilmour’s contributions fit in perfectly with the computerized drum machines and electronics. His guitar style is so identifiable that any of the riffs or noodlings found within the album’s two sprawling, 20-minute-plus tracks could sit comfortably on any of Pink Floyd’s mid-’70s albums.
The first seven minutes of the opening song, “Metallic Side,” feel like a slightly more aggressive version of the first half of Wish You Were Here’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Like that lengthy track (or other epic works by bands like Yes, Rush, and Genesis), the tempos on this album speed up and slow down with calculated precision, creating an atmosphere that relies more on how the synths and drum machines change from one movement to the next rather than on familiar melodies or lyrics.
Because of this, songs are hard to pick out and identify, and it’s clear that the Orb wants the listener to treat the work as an album, with A and B sides intended to be listened to in full, as opposed to a collection of 10 separate club tracks that could be skimmed over or skipped. Getting to a section of four-on-the floor beats requires patience, as sometimes the only thing for the listener to take in are electronically programmed drums, alien sounds, and spacious guitars that seemed to be stretched across an almost empty night sky.
But it’s not all cold and distant. About halfway through “Metallic Side,” the thaw occurs, and the sound of real instruments (a soft acoustic guitar and a medium-paced kick drum) takes us off the dance floor and into the woods. The last seven minutes of “Spheres Side,” for example, begin with more traditional percussion and end with a symphonic swoon.
Unusual collaborations are typically the ones that get the most press, only to let listeners down when, not surprisingly, the sound of the two artists coming together doesn’t exactly mesh very well. The Orb working with David Gilmour raised few eyebrows because it seemed like such a sensible project. Fortunately, the resulting album goes above and beyond any expectations, with both artists taking advantage of the others’ skills to put together a listening experience that only strengthens their individual reputations and repertoires. It’s been almost 20 years since the Orb released the classic, ecstasy-fueled Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, and Metallic Spheres finds the duo expanding on their sound by bringing in a musician to enhance it with ponderous yet clinically precise guitar lines.
In the early ’80s, Pink Floyd released a hits collection humorously titled A Collection of Great Dance Songs. Thirty years later, the Orb and Gilmour have decided to make good on that album title.