So I’m sitting at this bar in Chicago, looking over a curiously adventurous beer list, as I compliment the bartender’s choice in doom metal as he organizes suspended bullet belts laced with nothing but adorable little bottles of the German digestif, Underberg. Just as I’m about to select my beverage, the bar’s manager comes behind the stick wearing one of those clever Richard Pryor “High On Fire” shirts, and I realize I’m in a bar that fancies its stoner doom metal as much as its European bitters. While most of the bar’s patrons all seem to either be on dates or more interested in the complexities of their large format bombers and saisons, my companion and I can’t help but notice the ever-so-slight variation between each buzzing doom track. It was apparent that we were all listening to a mix of decent doom, but what struck me was — vocalists aside — how similar each band was. I kept inquiring as to whether or not we were listening to the same three or four bands, and to my surprise there were like twenty or so songs that had played, all totally generic stoner doom, and all from twenty or so bands I had never heard mentioned once in my life. At that moment, I accused the sub-genre of growing totally stagnant, with bands that only sound like cheap versions of Sleep, Electric Wizard, and Jex Thoth.
If the above vignette sounds exaggerated and a tad too harsh, it’s not because of all of the generic mediocrity occurring in stoner doom, but rather the fact that unique acts such as Ufomammut serve as a breath of fresh air floating above a sea of recycled riffs and kitschy distortion, and are helping keep the genre afloat. Ufomammut’s 8, which is bizarrely the group’s ninth album (perhaps the band counts both Oro albums as one), certainly does not disappoint in any sense of what the band has always been about. 8 keeps it psychedelic, heavy, and groovy as all hell, and is a fantastic addition to a discography that contains plenty of weird material that will sound even better as a live experience. Before delving too deeply into 8, a brief rundown of the band’s history may be in order so that both long time fans and future converts can ascertain where the band stands in regards to the future of its creative lifeblood.
Label: Neurot Recordings.
Just so we can get it out of the way, let’s start with the biggest issue 8 faces, which is the song arrangement. Almost opposite of its predecessor, 8 is surprisingly front heavy, almost to the point that the album’s B-side feels unnecessary after two or three spins. Right out of the gates, 8 begins where Ecate‘s “Daemons” left off, with a groove smoother than talcum powder on a newborn baby’s ass and the most developed outer space effects the band has shown to date. This pace continues through “Warship,” but it is “Zodiac” where the album peaks; and this is a peak that will be blatantly obvious to everyone, even upon first listen. The riffs, groove, vocal work, soloing and production of “Zodiac” are so strong, that it’s almost easy to except the bar never being raised beyond the position it’s lifted to on 8‘s third track. The track contains riffs that shake titanium walls very early on, and delivers hall of fame moments throughout its near-ten minutes. Unlike the usual tapering off of intensity that occurs on most of Ufomammut’s albums, 8 stays relatively heavy throughout the rest of its shorter tracks, with refined sound effects nearly at the forefront of every song. The rest of the album’s tracks hover around three to five minutes in length until closer “Psyrcle,” a song containing nowhere near the energetic mastery of “Zodiac,” but also leaving nothing but an optimistic feeling that there’s still a lot of great music to come from doom metal’s favorite three Italians.
Where 8 succeeds more than any Ufomammut release to date is in its flawless keyboard compositions, and more importantly, by interweaving them with its continuously groovy guitar segments. On past albums, the band’s sound effects ranged from being one hundred percent integral, such as the dystopian-sounding clock on Eve, to being a bit more of a novelty, such as much of Godlike Snake; but the psychedelia of 8 remains very audible throughout each of the album’s tracks. There’s no question that the hard work and persistence of Ufomammut’s founding members Urlo, Poia and Vita — having never left the band or added new members — continues to pay off, as the band gets sharper and sharper with each release, even if the riffs aren’t always at the forefront of every track. In fact, it seems safe to say Ufomammut has yet to compose its magnum opus, and when that does occur, nobody will be ready.
So I’m sitting in a bar, drinking some of Piedmont’s finest nebbiolo, obsessing over the excellent cured soppressata as a scantily clad couple next to me keeps tonguing each other’s ears as they sweat into their glasses. Hundreds of years of paint of the walls of the dark establishment have been stripped away, exposing the building’s old, dusty bricks to the point that it feels the walls are melting away. There’s some really psychedelic stuff coming through the speakers, and the bass is to the point that I feel the subwoofer is getting ready to blow. There’s a man wearing nothing but sandals headbanging and air-guitaring while staring at the corner of the wall. I ask the bartender which band is playing and she starts speaking a language I don’t understand. In fact, her voice sounds as if its some sort of computerized, tremolo echo. I look at my hands as they begin to turn to cheese as I reach for the curtains to look out the bar’s window in an attempt to get a hold of myself and figure out where the hell I am. Apparently, the bar is inside some sort of spaceship that is heading toward another planet. Either that, or I’m super high / tripping balls at Local Option again listening to Ufomammut, but I’m digging the hell out of it. I think I’ll stay here for a while.