Visitor is the seventh release from British psychedelic spacerockers ohead (the band appearing to prefer a small “o” in their name these days), who started life as a side project for producer David Hendry in 1996. After releasing Silent Universe in 1998, little was heard from ohead until the follow-up Steps Across the Cortex came out in 2005. Since that time Hendry, who predominantly features on synths and programming, has been joined by a number of regular collaborators including the lead guitar talents of Tim Jones and John Simms, plus occasional sax and flute from Spacey Rach and Maren Lueg. Although Hendry remains firmly at the helm, Visitor has the feel of a band effort, even including real drums and percussion on a few tracks.
Opening track Kull (perhaps named for Robert E. Howard’s “other” fictional barbarian) features stately choral synths, like sunrise over the mountains, as a 90 second prologue before the real action kicks in with Alluvial Morte. Early ohead releases seemed to take their aural cues from mid-1970’s Tangerine Dream and, although Hendry’s allowing guitars into the mix has caused the band to move more to a rock sound, Alluvial Morte harks back to the early days, with a classic T-Dream programmed note sequence. Both this track and Jagged feature vocals from occasional contributor Al O’Kane, who has a breathy, somewhat alien style very much like Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson. Next up is Solar Glide, an almost chirpy slice of melodic space-pop, which even features a kind of Latino percussion break, and Ney flute playing guitar-like lines. This and other tracks, like Utep sound almost more like Ozric Tentacles than the Ozrics do themselves, while Diadanze and Space Soup feature Ozric-patented space-dub themes. This in itself is no bad thing, and ohead’s efforts stand up well against their spacerock forebears, but it does tend to make their sound less distinctive. The aforementioned Jagged is probably about as metal as ohead gets on this album, although it also features a rather tasteful acoustic guitar breakdown. Hendry doesn’t utilise bass guitars on this album, but still manages to conjure up some really funky synth-bass lines on tracks like Solar Glide and Diadaze. Tangerine Dream-esque sequencers make a comeback on the title track, before a return to dub with Alluvial Morte Dub, featuring the sax of Spacey Rach, and more great (Jah) Wobbley synth-bass lines. Album closer Manu has gentle eastern flute sounds, making it easy to visualise the sun slipping below the Pyramids.
Visitor is by no means a ground-breaking album as far as the spacerock genre is concerned, but does present a step forward for ohead as a band. If the thought of a marriage between Tangerine Dream and Ozric Tentacles is your idea of spacerock heaven, Visitor will serve as an excellent introduction to the world of David Hendry and ohead.
Reviewed by Pat Albertson