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7.5/10 Chaim

ORTEGA - 1634 - CD - Aesthetic Death - 2012

The prestigious Aesthetic Death Records has got this habit of re-releasing independent album that were originally self-released by bands a couple of years prior to catching the eye (the ear) of Aesthetic Death, believing the musical material contained within those unheralded independent albums is valuable enough that it should be revisited, reprinted and be warranted an accessibility to a larger audience. 

Such was the case with the phenomenal Fatum Elisum self-released, self-titled debut album, and such is the case with Dutch quartet Ortega, whose album 1634 had been recorded in 2010, while in 2012 it was upgraded, given a better looking packaging and printed in much larger number of copies courtesy of the aforementioned label.

Ortega's theme on 1634 revolves around the oceanic and the naval; shipwrecks, storms, tidal waves, sirens; the very mysteries buried underneath the dark blue, velvety, salty H2O of the world; and even though Ortega loosely share interest and thematic framework with bands such as The Ocean, Ahab, Whales And Aurora, Fungoid Stream and basically any other band whose moniker involves the word 'ocean' and/or other water-obsessed bands out there who have built entire careers on the basis of that sole subject - in the end, Ortega share very little with any of those mentioned; on the contrary, they carry an individualistic banner of singularity in their sound aesthetic and the music captured on 1634 can hardly be regarded as metal par excellence. 

Never mind the sludge/doom rubric the band proclaims their music to fit into, as 1634 is neither sludge nor doom (nor any combination of such). Ortega plays atmospheric hardcore, plain and simple. The riffs are distinctive to hardcore punk; the sound etiquette - the guitar distortion effect included - is so much into atmospheric hardcore, it leaves no room for metal to squeeze in. But that, by no means, is a bad thing, as Ortega practices some majestic, hermetic hardcore/post-hardcore of the highest level, and in that regard they are reminiscent of the aforementioned The Ocean or Whales And Aurora; reminiscent, yes, but more austere and simpler/more linearly approaching than the former, as well as more into sheer ambiance and volatility than the latter. 

The music on 1634 is more airy than heavy; almost danceable at time and very much into the tamer kind of mosh pitting. The opening to the whole album, as well as parts scattered here and there, have got a southern/folk flair to them, like something Across Tundras would have played. There are all sorts of ocean-related samples as well, like the sound of water ripples going back and forth, back and forth, receding from the shoreline and advancing yet again, conquering whatever tiny turf of a sandy beach they can before receding back. The music itself is on par with the tides and ebbs, taking you on a joy ride, carrying the listener upon surging, raging swells and plummeting him/her into the unknown deep, where both tranquility and dread reside. The album has a dualistic approach, a dichotomy between utter bliss accompanied occasionally by classical string instruments and sudden bursts of raw power coupled with thrashing guitars and gigantic rhythm section that beautifully contrast the moody, gentle parts.

The long, dreamy, contemplative, suspense-building tunes have got a strong Neurosis modus operandi vibe, and so are the explosive (never too explosive though) zeniths of those very ambient moments, where a ripping guitar and robust drums drain all the tension buildup, and while releasing this trapped energy they burst with polychromatic anger. 

Ortega's effort is by all means a worthy addition to the growing number of post-hardcore bands; 1634 distinguishes this band from the crowd - a crowd comprised of many bands lacking personality or individuality. Luckily, Ortega own both, and more: in its approach to the style, in how these guys write songs, in how they generate that exquisite yet foreboding atmosphere, in how they manage to dodge copycatting while still sounding like Neurosis' baby brother. 

Anyone who's into high quality atmospheric hardcore/post-hardcore of the reflecting, contemplating, soul-searching kind - you will not easily find a better album than 1634 and you can take that to the bank. (7.5/10)


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