“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Ufomammut are a strange band. Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. The Italian trio of metallers moonlight as professional graphic artists in the Malleus art collective, and also have an expansive back catalog of albums that plunder elements of psychedelic, stoner, and sludge-infused doom with reckless abandon. Given this mix of styles, the band are fairly difficult to pigeon hole into any specific subgenre niche in metal. Which is simultaneously both one of the best things about their music and one of the worst aspects of it when trying to explain how they sound in a review. But bravely shall I endure for the cause.
So, let’s imagine Electric Wizard is out and about legalizing drugs and murder. On their journey of depravity and debauchery of the most heinous sort they come across a temple, which they obviously enter because DESECRATION!!! Inside Om sits in lotus on the floor before an altar covered in yellow silk, black paint, and the words Black Sabbath emblazoned in pure white. On opposite corners of the room sit Sleep (which is just a further apparition of Om generated by their meditative state) and Neurosis, smoking weed in silence. As Wizard approaches, these entities turn to face the newcomer. “Welcome,” they intone in unison. The chants and incantations uttered in that meeting form a glowing orb of darkness, which spills onto the floor as a new manifestation of their collective darkness: Ufomammut. From on high, Iommi appears, nods, and states that it is good. He then returns skyward, ripping through an amazing solo on his way.
So… yeah. That’s pretty much Ufomammut. Doomy, sludgy, stonery, psychedelic, a tad bit evil and a lot bit mad. But here you are, reading about their newest musical manifestation, 8. As Carroll aptly put it, we’re all mad here. So down the rabbit hole we go, as it were.
8 is Ufomammut’s ninth full-length record, and sonically presents a fitting and natural progression from the band’s last and critically acclaimed record Ecate. Where that album focused more consistently on expansive space-age sounds and textures, 8 takes a slightly different approach by ratcheting up the intensity and filthiness of their sound while maintaining the level of epic expansiveness present in their previous work, making for a slightly more immediate (yet oddly still somewhat elusive) listen. The music here moves in unique ways for a record predominantly in the doom tradition. While there are certainly plenty of delicious riffs to sink your teeth into, Ufomammut generally avoid the trap of spending too much time in any one place, giving the album a sense of unpredictability that isn’t necessarily a doom metal strong-suit. These tracks are chock-full of psychedelic sounds, sludgy grooves, and tonal shifts that make this record a very easy one to listen to repeatedly, with new elements being pulled from each spin. This is an adventurous record that is very rarely boring or stagnant.
This is apparent from the album’s opening track, “Babel”, which sets the stage well by balancing all of the above elements with ease, melding them into a cohesive whole. This track spends its first three minutes building a churning, broiling stew of doom and sludge heaviness before releasing a sequence of rhythmic chanting and clean singing that carries the tune through its more psychedelic end with relish. Much of this album’s fluctuation between widescreen beauty and immediate, in-your-face intensity is controlled through the drum work, which makes its presence felt in a big way during the album’s second track “Warsheep”. Overall, Vita’s kit work on this record is sensational, displaying an impeccable amount of constraint and reservation without losing an ounce of its overall punch. This is some stellar work that elevates what could have been a by-the-numbers rhythm section into something much more potent.
That isn’t to say that the other members of the band are slouches, either. Not in the slightest. The guitar work in “Zodiac” and “Fatum” is intense and fluid, jumping between deep and heavy passages and shrieking levels of upper register mania, never staying in one place or riding one motif for too long. Throughout the track, Urlo’s bass and clean vocals are heard clearly and with resonance, not drowning in the mix or feeling overly prominent. This is in large part due to a solid production job that gives each instrument ample room to breathe within the wall of almost drone-like noise, which is a feat in and of itself. This is a band operating on a level of comfort and skill that many metal bands aspire to and few achieve, and each subsequent track on the record feels organic in composition and execution, particularly “Prismaze”, the album centerpiece that feels like a showcase of each band member’s most essential skills, and serves as one of the album’s highlights.
Overall, I have very few significant complaints about 8. This is a solid record from start to finish, and is most definitely a must-listen for fans of doom-oriented metal that is not afraid to take sonic risks. This is a heavy, varied, and more-than-slightly mad listen that is well worth your time.
8 will be available on 9/22 via Neurot Records, and can be pre-ordered here.