Concept albums are a blessing and a curse. They give thinking songwriters room to develop ideas, but they also often expose how shallow and confused those ideas tend to be. The World’s On Fire, the latest album by the Vermont band Over Orange Heights, is an exception. Composed by the group’s leader, the 41-year-old lawyer and former Marine intelligence officer Adrian Otterman, it addresses a growing sense on the Right that the “War on Terror” may have morphed into a War on Freedom.
“Due to concerns regarding government reprisals,” reads a mock disclaimer on the back cover, “including politically motivated IRS audits, ongoing active Internet/social-media monitoring, indefinite detention without due process and/or assassination by the FBI or CIA pursuant to the USA Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2013, those involved in the recording of this album hereby publicly state that the views contained herein are not necessarily their views.”
“I was always proud of my nation,” says Otterman, “but perhaps simplistic in my views of good versus evil.” The World’s On Fire reflects Otterman’s de-simplification. “The realization that one’s closely held beliefs may be wrong or that one’s understanding of the world has been manipulated is painful,” he admits. “This album is the art that followed that pain.”
United by Otterman’s yearning lead vocals and lyrics that challenge military-industrial complexities, the 11 songs flow together with an ominous folk-rock, progressive-rock calm. Given Otterman’s background and Christian faith, the questioning—rhetorical and otherwise—feels sharper than it might coming from a leftist or anyone else whose default setting is “might makes wrong.”
“A nation without a foe can’t be saved,” he sings sarcastically in “False Flag,” concluding that “it’s just history repeated. …” In “Conditioned”: “Something’s got a hold on you. / It’s planted deep inside. / Is it false or is it true? / Your doubts are justified.”
Lest anyone miss the point, “The World’s On Fire Reprise” finds Otterman reciting the following: “We have been conditioned through the use of entertainment, war, pharmaceutical products, and advertising to believe that we are ‘free’ when in fact, we are all slaves of the rising Marxist oligarchy. The watered down notion of freedom to which we cling is actually tyranny in disguise. …”
The liner notes, meanwhile, feature “suggested readings” and/or “additional thoughts” from George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Edward Bernays, General Smedley Butler, and the Psalms. “People instinctively know that they cannot trust their media, their universities, their scientists or even their government,” Otterman says, “but they can’t quite find the words to express their frustration. I hope that this album gives them some words.”
It is the very rare album that comes with its own reading list, primarily comprised of political philosophers, theorists and science fiction writers. But this is what the listener gets with the booklet accompanying “The World’s On Fire” by Over Orange Heights. This 11-track CD contains a very glum view of the current state of war and politics in this nation, and the liner notes and lyrics make it very clear that, according to the composer, we are heading for destruction.
Over Orange Heights is the creation of singer, composer, lyricist and recording engineer Adrian Otterman along with a collection of other musicians. It is a beautifully recorded, somewhat eerie, often inspiring mock rock opera about the current political world as Otterman sees it. In his dystopian view of war, National Security Agency (NSA) revelations and general breakdown of values he finds little hope. The major image here, repeated throughout the album, is one of fire. The album graphics, the drawings in the lyric booklet, each convey in one way or another the sense of heat, battle or emotional dislocation. This is a 50-minute album that won’t have you smiling or singing catchy “moon in June” lyrics, although there is some very good dance music.
Otterman, a lawyer by day, is a man who wears many musical hats. He’s produced several Over Orange Heights CDs, each with a strong political sensibility, as well as albums of 1940s standards for piano and saxophone, and a few other projects. This CD shows a real maturity in his technical abilities as an engineer and producer. With lush gorgeous cello parts played by Bruce Nyquist, the music gets a bit of a classical/orchestral sound. The playing of all the other musicians — Tom Longfellow on drums, Bill Richardson on bass guitar, Andrew O’Connor on electric guitar, Maurice Brule and Tom Blood on keyboards, and Adelheid Otterman on guitar and vocals — is excellent. Bass lines seem to flow from song to song in deep, sonorous waves. This album has the sound and feel of a very expensive production, showing just how far recording has come from the days when an album of this scope might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to record in a big Los Angeles studio. Essentially this was recorded in a home studio.
Otterman is a serious musician and writer. He’s certainly a thoughtful critic of America’s political involvement in various wars, a keen observer of the changing nature of national politics and our move toward less individual freedom. His lyrics suggest a very grim future. He opens the album with the song “False Flag.” The opening line is indicative of the sentiments in the rest of the album: “So you’ve got some things that you want to get done, but you cannot seem to convince the ones who offer their votes, their lives and their cash, so you douse them with fear then you strike the first match.” That’s strong language and the rest of the CD is similarly heavyweight.
I respect Otterman’s musical and political vision. He’s a musician with a lot to say, and he says it with conviction on this album. He has chosen his band well and the sound they produce is high quality. Do we need a reading list of political treaties accompanying our entertainment? Perhaps.
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