Orbitals is the debut album from Salt Lake City's Acroma. Mixing the heavy grandeur of Tool with Live's soul-searching pop and gluing it all together with a dulling, post-grunge lacquer, Acroma has been primed to make waves in a heavy alternative scene that finds itself in flux.
Led by the soaring vocals of Jeremy Stanley, Acroma also includes guitarist Brian Christensen, bassist Tom Collins, and drummer Joshua Zirbel. Originally known as No Release, the Acroma name emerged somewhere between the band's signing with Universal (on the strength of a three-song demo and influential word-of-mouth) and the arrival of Orbitals. Produced and mixed by Sylvia Massey Shivy (Tool), Acroma owes a serious debt to that band, especially on "Don't Think Just Move" and "Orbitals," and recalls the Tool side project A Perfect Circle on ("Wash Away [Some Desert Night].") While Stanley emotes, the band lays down a mid-tempo groove heavy on acoustic/electric guitar dynamics; busy, splash-flavored percussion; and a liberal dose of studio trickery that adds vocal programming, spacy sound effects, and subtle synthesizer washes. While Acroma is as obvious in its influences as many heavy alternative groups of the past few years, its sound aims for grandiosity over bombast, which might signal a shift in a genre that's in dire need of something fresh. At the same time, Acroma's atmospheric flights of fancy (the churning metal of "Motive" downshifts into a weird, swirling desert soliloquy) and significant reliance on production -- not to mention their amorphous name change and Orbitals' bland cover art -- suggest Acroma might be caught up in its label's scramble for success. Sure, the quartet can be alterna-metal if you want them to be. But if the heavy alternative gravy train derails, Acroma could fit into any number of other genres.
Behind the sheen of Orbitals' production, and a tendency for the over-dramatic that's typical of a young group, Acroma does have some solid talent. The unlisted, unnamed ninth track is an acoustic standout, and the single "Sun Rises Down" perfectly aligns each part of what the quartet does best. But label conniving aside, the guys in Acroma might need another album to figure out exactly what they want their band to be. Just as Live didn't really hit its stride until Throwing Copper -- after the promise of its debut -- Stanley's pensive lyrics ("There's a garden in your eyes/All I want is paradise," from the anthem "Big Karma Now") are too often histrionic when they aim for poetic. Similarly, Christensen's guitar work can be too technical to appeal to an audience who likes its heavy alternative spiked with punk bar chords, yet not meaty enough to reach fans of more intense outfits like Disturbed. It's a problem Acroma will have to work out on its own, since the industry too easily shoehorns young bands into the latest or greatest shape to come along.