Calliope (Pronounced: CALL-EYE-OH-PEE), are a Milwaukee 4-piece that manage to channel the bluesy swagger of Jim Morrison’s vocal style mixed with the hard rocking sound of ’70s prog. It’s a hell of a mix. Their latest release, Orbis, is a 6-song opus that fits right in with your King Crimson and Led Zeppelin albums. They definitely fall more onto the “Rock” side of the term “Psychedelic Rock”, but this is an album that is too good not to be featured here. We’re happy to present this week’s Psychedelic Sunday, ORBIS by Calliope.
The opening track, aptly titled “Prelude”, begins with a slow arpeggiated guitar riff that has a just a hint of The Animals “House of the Rising Sun” behind it. The song quickly sheds that comparison though and builds into a multi-layered rock epic with droning keyboard melodies, acoustic guitar, and the subtle accent of trumpets buried in the mix. By the time the drums kick in you’re already in a trance. It’s a really great opening track that prepares you for what’s to come.
The keyboard drone lingers a bit after the song comes to an end and leads into the fuzzy psychedelic blues sound of “Guns”. Vocalist/keyboardist Al Kraemer, brings a powerful presence to this track while Victor Buell IV’s guitar work shreds throughout the entirety of the song.
Reaching the end of the A-Side of the album is the chaotic, yet melodic, title-track “ORBIS”. The intro reminds me of the first time I heard the band Bloodrock, a ’70s progressive rock group that had a lot of songs about satan and whiskey. Just as Bloodrock did in the ’70s, this Calliope track may scare the shit out of you at first. It’s jarring, angular intro riffs lead into this fast paced rock tune with the lyrics “Well you can put your hands upon my chest, on my chest” frantically repeating until the line “‘Cuz I cant give you my love, but I can give you the rest” completes the sentiment.
The song takes a turn about half way through and enters into some very atmospheric “Pink Floydian” territory. The layers of keys and guitar are soon accented by drummer Eric Gomoll’s rapid bass and cymbal hits that guide the song back into the refrain one last time. “ORBIS” is a meandering journey of a song that truly pays off once you reach the end of this 5 minute and 22 second trip.
This is a short album, but a well-thought out album. The band wastes no time showing you what they’ve got in these 6 tracks. Flipping to the B-Side, “Casino” is yet another keyboard driven epic that brings out a bit of the band’s pop side. It still just as heavy as the rest of the album but has this slight euro-pop charm to it that could almost make it a Stereolab song if the vocals weren’t so gruff and masculine.
“The King” is a straight up blues number that part me hopes is named after Elvis. It’s got more of that Doors-esque swagger with the powerfully belted chorus “But I’m still not coming home”. By around the 2 minute mark, the guitar riffs get some octave overdubs that take a page from Jimmy Page’s work at the end of “Black Dog”. It’s not as “epic” or “atmospheric” as the rest of the album but it’s just a damn good rock song.
Closing out the album is the noisy psychedelic drone of “Iron Hand”. The lyrics are ripe with the imagery of war, with verses like “Then the Hills are crawling / With my bloody men / Black clad and dashing / Onto the field again”. If I didn’t know any better I might think it was an early Black Angels track (and I mean that in a good way.)
To hear the rest of the album you’ll have to head over to Calliope’s bandcamp. However, In an age where digital convenience allows us to simply stream new music when we want (and embed it into blog posts), I can’t stress strongly enough that this album must be heard on vinyl. The beautiful album art alone makes ORBIS look like a lost psychedelic gem from the ’60s or 70’s. It deserves to be gazed at while a record needle drags across this gorgeous red vinyl producing pure analog sound. Some albums need to be “experienced” and not just listened to, and ORBIS definitely fits that category.
Hurry though, the band produced only 250 copies of this amazing vinyl record. Grab one now via bandcamp and you will not be disappointed.