I'm wary of putting a Critic's Choice button on anything I write about ORTHRELM, for fear that someone will take that recommendation to mean I'm recommending them for everybody. There's no middle ground with these guys--in my experience anyone who isn't fascinated by this stuff finds it completely unendurable. Mick Barr (of the equally alien duo Crom-Tech) and Josh Blair need nothing more than a guitar and a drum kit to distill everything that's most exhilaratingly obnoxious about repetitive minimalism and arty, highly technical metal into a crisp, blindingly bright sheet of sound whose layers of detail shift and deepen as you listen, the way patterns come out in a TV screen filled with snow. Blair is the good cop, his drumming convincing you of the benefits of joining his tribe; guitarist Barr is responsible for the painful hazing. The intent behind their music seems to be abstract, but it occasionally sounds like ten years' worth of bar-long transitions from prog-metal records all spliced together--that is, when it doesn't sound like that electronic noise the baddies use to torture Chewbacca in The Empire Strikes Back. Orthrelm's 2002 full-length debut, Asristir Veildroixe (Troubleman Unlimited), is 99 tracks in less than 13 minutes, which makes the record useful mostly for a cruel form of dog training. But last year's OV (Ipecac) is one untitled 45-minute monster composed entirely of shifting rhythmic cells about a second long, and the shrill, needling guitar, frenetic drums, and numbing, obsessive, maniacal-bordering-on-sadistic repetition play your brain like a xylophone. It almost feels like a spoiler to say that it gave me vertigo when the music first broke open and shifted gears at about the 18-minute mark. --Monica Kendrick
The press release from local two-piece VOLTAGE says they'll "have you shaking your ass while simultaneously asking yourself, 'What is my ass?'" That's a cruel promise to make if you can't follow through, but on Building the Bass Castle Vol. 1 (Flameshovel) guitarist Todd Bailey and drummer Erik Schwartz, abetted by an assortment of scratch-built analog gizmos, got me fired up with the very first track. (There are no song titles, just a fucked-up-looking schematic and the formula V=IR--Ohm's law, which I wouldn't have had to look up if I were as mathletic as these guys.) The tune begins melodic and intricate, gets ferocious for a bit, and then calms down again, like Cul de Sac in a happy mood with about 30 seconds of panic sandwiched in the middle. Unfortunately the rest of the CD sounds like two record-convention vendors trying to drown each other out with Derek Bailey and Sammy Hagar LPs: it's full of incomplete ideas, purposeful asymmetry, and implausible segues. --J. Niimi
Orthrelm headlines and Zombi plays third; Voltage and Big Nurse open. Fri 3/10, 8 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444, $8 in advance, $10 at the door, 18+.