Friday, March 9, 2012

Uzala - 'S/T'...

            Boise, Idaho may not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of metal, particularly doom metal, but Boise’s Uzala just might change that way of thinking. The band had been hinting at great things to come for months via their Bandcamp page and expectations were high based solely on the strength of a handful of songs. The self-titled release is an engaging, powerful album that is seething with psychedelic flourishes. In short: this is my type of doom.
            The big question mark for most listeners is the production. Uzala seems to have taken their cue from Electric Wizard’s “Black Masses”. The production is muffled and the instruments often blend together in hypnotic washes. Singer/guitarist Darcy Nutt’s vocals act as more of an accompaniment to the instrumentation, especially on album opener “Batholith”, partly due to her vocal style and partly due to the muffled production. Of all the female fronted doom bands, Darcy’s vocals seem the best suited for the music. While the lyrics may be indiscernible, her voice soars above the tracks and guides the listener through their particular trip.
            The album opener, “Batholith”, begins with a slow, repetitive guitar passage. The listener is lulled into a false sense of melancholy calm. The bells tolls, feedback rolls, and the song kicks into overdrive—a cyclic, droning fury that would be just as at home on a Tombs release. The song isn’t all fury as Darcy’s vocals float on top of the music. The song breaks down to the initial slow guitar passage before relaunching. The intensity continues to build and build…
            …until the second track, “The Reaping”, slices into the crescendo and really slows things down. The song features a heavy, sinister riff, some wah pedal abuse and wouldn’t sound out of place on Saint Vitus’ debut. Darcy’s vocals are more prominent and soulful here and are a focal point rather than blending into the music. The song never gains speed above a mid-tempo burn, but the vocals cascade over the music in the chorus—a highlight in the song.
            “Ice Castle” follows suit with another slow intro, this time instigated by cymbal rolls. Heavily distorted guitars are juxtaposed with Darcy’s vocals. “Ice Castles’ is not the strongest song on the album and here, at three songs in, there is a danger of the tempo and mood to become too predictable. While “Ice Castles” is not too memorable, it sets the listener up for the midpoint of the album as the song fades out.
            The aptly titled “Fracture” ambushes the listener with an upbeat, thrashy guitar intro. This fourth track sees a change in vocal duties as vocalist/guitarist Chad Remains rants like a maniacal berserker. The music is fast, unrelenting and breaks the album up nicely. At less than three minutes long the song does not overstay its welcome and succeeds in showing another side of the band. Not only can they play slow, atmospheric doom, but they can also launch angrily into the stratosphere.
            Chad takes the vocal reins yet again on “Wardrums”, a doomy, groove-laden jam that’ll get your fist pumping. Here, the vocals are at their most sinister and harsh sounding. Darcy contributes some back up vocals that rise eerily out of the mix like a spectre. Truly haunting stuff. This is a song to blast when marching forth to war.
            “Plague” is the comedown after Chad’s mid-album attack. Darcy returns to the mic, though sparingly in this song, and the tune plods along. This possibly would have been a better choice to lead into “Fracture” and “Wardrums”, but that is a minor quibble. It allows the listener to catch their breath.
            The seventh track, “Gloomy Sunday” (also known as the Hungarian Suicide Song), is the lone cover song on the album. While Uzala are not the first to cover it, they certainly make it their own. “Gloomy Sunday” has a long, varied history and many claim that the song itself is haunted and that numerous suicides are linked to it. Regardless of the song’s history, it sounds right at home on this album. Darcy’s vocals are deeper and convey a commanding, forlorn presence which is at times reminiscent of the vocals of Sharie Neyland of The Wounded Kings.
            The final track, “Cataract”, has what can only be described as an Eastern influence. Both the music and vocals have an epic, emotional quality. Midway through the doom-paced track fuzzed-out guitar cuts through the din and the song launches into a groove akin to “Wardrums”. This song really conveys the positive side to the lo-fi, muffled recording as Chad offers some devilishly whispered vocals that can go unnoticed at first listen. “Cataract” is the perfect epic closer to a fine first release.
            While we are barely into 2012, this is easily the finest release of the year and it will be difficult to top. Uzala have crafted a multilayered release where listeners are rewarded with multiple listens. While the album has been crafted primarily for doom-heads there certainly is enough variety in this release to appeal to different metal fans. Some listeners may complain about the production of the album. It’s true, the production could be a bit clearer and the album could sound heavier, but those are minor complaints compared to the strengths of the songwriting and instrumentation on this album. Highly recommended and essential listening here.

Words: Steve Miller
(originally published at Doommantia)




No comments:

Post a Comment