If you’d have told me back when 2022 had just risen from the muck of its preceding years that one of its most curious artistic yieldings would be a genre-fluid audiobook assembled by an international supergroup of avant-garde luminaries, musically interpreting a posthumously-published prequel by renowned science-fiction author Philip K. Dick — I mean, if nothing else, does that not have your attention?
If your interest was at all piqued by any of the aforementioned adjectives and descriptors (as it ought to be), then you surely have happened upon The Egg That Never Opened.
This is the first you’ve heard of High Castle Teleorkestra; The limitations of these messy past years drove several well-known avant-gardeners — from the likes of Mr. Bungle, Estradasphere, Umlaut, Farmers Market, & beyond — to plant the seeds that burst into this eggy treat, and burst they most certainly did.
Not a second is wasted across these ten busy tracks, bustling with orchestral flourishes punctuated by chugging heavy metal guitar stabs; cascading whirlwinds of woodwind melodies (“The Aramchek Accusation”, courtesy of Mr. Bungle’s Bär McKinnon); more jazzy polyrhythmic jam breaks than you can shake a stick at, often accompanied by clean & cheeky Stratocaster licks; unhinged accordion hysteria (“At Last He Will”); the sudden manifestation of uniquely idiosyncratic percussion; Again, if you told me a literal kitchen sink made an appearance, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Being a studio project on a global scale, High Castle Teleorkestra renounce the barriers of live performance in their detailed assortment of layers, instrumentation, and arrangements; There is a constant-ness to this record that balances frenzied anarchistic progressive metal with more low-key moments of unrelenting strangeness awash in tense quietudes.
And that’s not even getting into the subject matter. For those of you who don’t know, the mid-1970s saw sci-fi household name Philip K. Dick personally wrestling with sudden, unexplained visions and began documenting his attempts to comprehend these experiences in a lengthy personal journal. This effort spawned the “VALIS” series (an abbreviation for Vast Active Living Intelligence System), released as a trilogy in the early 1980s; However, these books were originally conceptualized as a single novel titled “VALISystem A” (also the title of track 4 on this album, and a personal highlight) before being revisited and revised into the VALIS we know today, and following Dick’s death this narrative would be posthumously distributed under the fresh moniker of “Radio Free Albemuth.”
All in all an intriguing yarn to observe in musical form and a brilliant jumping-off point for creativity; “The Egg That Never Opened” doesn’t rely on one’s familiarity with the novel to keep your attention, with the lyrics/vocal performances across this album often consisting of occasional, effect-driven ethereal melodies, as well as multiple tracks (especially in the album’s final leg) lacking vocals entirely. I encourage any readers to briefly explore the origins of “Radio Free Albemuth” before assembling any final judgments on this harrowing conceptual monolith; not that this album doesn’t already demand repeat listenings, in attempting assessment of what exactly this all-star line-up of eccentric oddballs have laid before us this summer.
This album’s flavor of pandemonium isn’t for everybody, but tucked away in its embryonic folds may be a little taste for artists of many walks to respect and enjoy. If you’re the type of musical consumer always prowling for the next “weird” thing to hold your attention (for about 50 minutes, conveniently), this is a perplexing and bewildering curiosity more than worthy of an encounter. Worthy of laudation, even.
And it gets you to read, which you probably weren’t doing enough of anyway.
High Castle Teleorkestra’s debut album, The Egg That Never Opened, was released through Art As Catharsis on June 17th, 2022. Check out their Bandcamp and buy the album!
HIGH CASTLE TELEORKESTRA:
Tim Smolens – bass, keyboards, cello, vocals
Chris Bogen – guitars, analog synths, noise collages
Bär McKinnon – tenor sax, flute, keyboards, clarinet, vocals
Dave Murray – drums, percussion
Stian Carstensen – accordions, pedal steel guitar
Timba Harris – violin, viola, strings
A fascinating collection of musical clichés.