Italian power trio Ufomammut set expectations high when they announced their latest album – and debut for the Neurosis-owned label Neurot Recordings – would be the audacious twofer ORO. Thankfully, rather than lay more than 90 minutes of their self-professed “psychedelic sludge” on us in one fell swoop, the group conceived the set as two separate yet connected records, Opus Primum (issued this past April) and the recently released Opus Alter. But does the music live up to their ambitions?
Opus Primum begins with ‘Empirium‘, a 14-minute monster that germinates from an electronic soundscape, vibrating around a core five-note melody of synth blips before the mammoth-sounding percussion and the crunchy, downtuned guitars come into play. Ufomammut are often referred to as a doom metal band, and the sludgy riffage might be informed by doom, but if anything this is post-metal, for good and for bad. ‘Empirium’ and the more monochromatic ‘Aureum‘ that follows are squarely in that NeurIsis vein of slow-burning circular epics. And though they have an insistent tribal stomp that starts to dig in after repeated listens, they don’t half go on. ‘Aureum’ is the bigger culprit of the two here; it’s got all the right elements, but spread out too thinly. There’s simply no need for a song like this to be 12 minutes long. It’s not Earth 2.
However, it’s on ‘Infearnatural‘ where the record really loses its steam for me. At seven-and-a-half minutes, it’s about half the length of its predecessors but feels twice as long. And that’s not at all helped by a reprise of that bleepy refrain from ‘Empirium’ on the fourth track ‘Magickon‘. One could ask, is that the mark of a band adept enough to spin two different explorations from one melody? Or are they simply running out of ideas that quickly?
The last track, ‘Mindomine‘, salvages something of worth from the muddle, with its ethereal vocals and quiet control of the chaos within (even if again it returns to that childish five-note motif), and in isolation from the rest it’s something the band can be proud of. But taken as a whole, Opus Primum is a wearying experience of scale without substance. It feels like everything’s played at the same pace, at mostly the same volume, and none of the riffs stand out, which makes the tracks – long enough as they are – blend together in a single boring mass.
Opus Alter picks up where the first record leaves off, yet it’s a more promising proposition from the start, with the ironically titled ‘Oroburos‘. Rather than allowing the snake to eat its own tail, here Ufomammut surprise with their first real signs of dynamism, recalling the Melvins’ creep and crunch and Pelican’s groove in equal measure. That trend continues into ‘Luxon‘ with its stop-start tempo shifts, interrupted by passages of pulsing guitar chugs.
There’s also a better structure here, a sense of things climbing a mountain that peaks on ‘Sulphurdew‘, the 12-minute backbeat-driven colossus at the centre of this second suite that beats a simple three-note riff into the ground – and in a reflection of Opus Primum’s self-referencing, continues the melodic motif set down by ‘Oroburos’ – yet demonstrates enough variety in its sonic textures to pull it off with aplomb.
The ambient texturing of ‘Sublime‘ are a welcome respite after all that intensity, though it’s a surprise package itself, exploding after three minutes into a speaker-rattling conflagration of low-end distortion that gradually decays, stripping back to those electronic noodlings on ‘Empirium’ (bass drop and all) before the sudden blitzkrieg and grandiose burnout of ‘Deityrant‘. It’s a fitting close to a record that, unlike its companion piece, does a good job of fulfilling the scale of its ambitions. Talk about saving the best for last.