I normally don't put much stock in the opinions of other people in regard to music. It's not through any desire to seem individual, or out of any sense of elitism, fuck knows I'm far from either of those, I'd just rather make up my mind about things for myself.
But most people who are familiar with the underground heavy music scene will have heard of Grim Kim, PR tyrant, writer for both digital and print publications, merch seller, and generally awesome lifer. In her various occupations, she turns people onto new bands at every opportunity, and has been responsible for bringing several awesome bands to my attention, like Coffinworm, Wolvhammer, and now Uzala. I'm glad there are people out there who are able to turn me on to new music, who rarely steer me wrong.
Through various reviews and track streams I saw mentioned through Catharsis PR (hey bands, these things work, look, I bought a record because of one!), my attention was grabbed by phrases like 'soaring and sorrowful female vocals', 'sludgy doom with occult flavour' and 'seriously riff heavy'. Reading that it had been produced by Blake Green of fellow Boise, Idaho doomed souls Wolvserpent (read my review of their excellent 'Blood Seed' here), I was pretty much sold. It was a late, cold night in December when I sat down to give them a listen, and goddamn am I glad I did! Within a couple of tracks, I was emailing At War With False Noise to place my pre-order. It finally arrived. Here goes...
The sound of a solitary guitar creeps out of the speakers, and thus Batholith opens the first side. A second, more mournful guitar joins it soon after. It's a haunting, atmospheric sound.
With so many bands heralded as 'doom' these days, it can be hard to find the gems amongst all the boring just-crank-out-any-old-notes-slowly-through-a-fuzz-pedal-and-an-Orange-amp bullshit. So many 'doom' bands just aim for playing as slow and as loud as possible. I'm not saying I'm any authority on the subject, but no, that's not all there is to being a doom band. It's an atmosphere, a feeling, a tone, a mindset, and yet it's so open to encompassing all sorts of sounds and styles.
From the first notes of the first song, I just know that Uzala is one of the bands that gets it.
The production is perfect in it's imperfections. The notes crackling and buzzing into the air before the whole thing kicks up a gear into a faster-tempo stomp, Darcy Nutt's vocals ringing clear through the cacophany. One of the guitars takes on a proto-black metal tremolo sound, giving the faster sections an atonal, eerie edge. The sound of the full band at once is a wall of sound, the drums driving it ever onwards before it collapses abruptly into second track, The Reaping.
This one has much more of that traditional doom plod, before Darcy's voice reigns again, and there's some liberal use of wah pedal, giving the song a far more vintage Vitus sound than the first track. Goddamn, I'm trying to be analytical and descriptive, but all I really want to say is that it fucking rocks, as cliche as that sounds. I'm kind of gutted they aren't touring more, especially as I know Darcy and fellow guitarist Chad Remains (which is the best Autopsy-inspired name ever) are regulars at Tilburg's Roadburn Festival, which I'll be attending in a few weeks. Why they didn't end up on the bill is a mystery, they'd be perfect.
I'm getting distracted. The Reaping continues it's doomed psych procession before fuzzing out into the opening notes of Ice Castle. Accompanied by huge thunder-on-the-horizon cymbal splashes, that atmosphere I talked about earlier is fully present here. It's an unsettling, creeping thing, an audible sense of dread. A wailing, wah-ing guitar screams over the funeral-pace riff. It returns a few times in this track. I don't have much to say except this is fucking brilliant.
The tempo kicks up a few notches in what I think might be the next track? It's a pretty seamless transition, and with vinyl it's always hard to tell. So this may or may not be Fracture.
Vocal duties aren't always handled by Darcy, Chad also has a fearsome voice in a whole different way. It's much more of a blackened rasp, a roaring, primal thing. It's a Jekyll and Hyde effect, the controlled riff-heavy restraint of the first few tracks suddenly developing into this snarling, thunderous thing. The drums pound away, backing a real banger of a song that I'd love to spill beer everywhere to in a dark, dingey room somewhere.
The song and side fade out with an ominous cackle from Chad.
Side B opens with more necromantic growls and battering drums in, funnily enough, Wardrums. Vocals are split between the two distinct styles at various points, constrasting just how wide-ranging the dynamic of this band can be. Also, can I just say, that riff! Fuuuck. This thing has serious groove.
Plague is an epic in the truest sense of the word. Slower than anything else on the record, the sounds that emit from my speakers during this one are just... fucking great. I can't think of any more clever ways to phrase it. The guitar tone, the 1bpm drums, the soaring vocals that I read so much about, all of it. The effect is hypnotic, the kind of thing that has me swaying around in dark rooms forgetting that anyone else even exists, the notes vibrating around my skull.
This is music that has real soul, a thing so often lacking in heavy music, which can sometimes become a 'whos heavier/slower/more evil than the rest' competition. It's refreshing to hear a band just play some actual songs with actual riffs.
Gloomy Sunday closes out the album brilliantly, a cover of a song which I'm not familiar with, but Uzala make it their own with this version. It sounds perfectly suited to their tone and playing. I'm interested to check out the other versions of it, especially since the lyrics are as truely doom as they come:
'Sadly one Sunday I waited and waited
With flowers in my arms for the dream I'd created
I waited 'til dreams, like my heart, were all broken
The flowers were all dead and the words were unspoken
The grief that I knew was beyond all consoling
The beat of my heart was a bell that was tolling'
That bell that was tolling could be the same one piercing through the rain in the song that started it all. Like I said, doom as fuck. The song fades out, the needle lifts, and I'm so fucking glad I paid attention to this band.
Okay, I'm gonna sew on the patch that comes with the record onto some old tattered denim and spin it again.
You can hear this album for yourself over at Uzala's bandcamp
And order it from At War With False Noise, if there are still copies left