With Optical Delusion, their tenth studio album, Orbital dig deeper into the unquiet psyche of our increasingly surreal and disordered world. Sketched out partly during lockdown but fully recorded in the uncertain After Times, the album summons up conflicting emotions and beguiling images from recent times, when the science fiction doomsdays that the Hartnoll brothers watched on TV as kids finally came true.
The album’s lead single, the BBC6 Music playlisted lead single Dirty Rat, is an incendiary collaboration with Sleaford Mods whose brilliant video has swiftly racked up half a million views. This week, the band released a second track from Optical Delusion, Ringa Ringa (The Old Pandemic Folk Song), in which a classic, cyclical Orbital groove gives way to an unnerving past-meets-present timeslip as goth maenads The Mediaeval Baebes materialise to sing ‘Ring O’Roses’, the innocent nursery rhyme whose roots are in the Black Death.
The new album is the latest in a burst of renewed post-pandemic creativity for Orbital, who’ve stayed at the top of their game longer than anyone from the post-1988 Class of Acid House. Earlier this year an Orbital thirtieth-anniversary package 30 Something – featuring reinterpretations of “Chime”, “Satan”, “Belfast” and more by fans ranging from Jon Hopkins to ANNA to David Holmes, plus studio versions of Orbital live favourites – reintroduced Paul and Phil Hartnoll to a worldwide fanbase.