As 2014 winds its way down, it becomes obvious that several trends will jock for dominance. Whether you believe this is the year of technical death metal or of post-progressive, the Doom Revival™ should be somewhere on that list. Releases from giants such as Yob or Thou, coupled with younger additions from bands like Pallbearer, hint at the productivity that is churning beneath the surface of this sub-genre. However, one last piece of the puzzle was missing and that is the appearance of a whole new band unto the scene. And here, right at the nick of time, we have Usnea. Sporting clever design and a contract with none other than Relapse Records, these newcomers have set the bar high for their first label release. That bar is quickly smashed to pieces by the insanely massive album that is Random Cosmic Violence.
The first thing that springs to the trained eye is the album structure, eerily reminiscent of Yob’s Clearing the Path to Ascend. Four monolithic tracks tower over us, each spanning well over ten minutes and most of them close to fifteen. What does this structure signify? Perhaps a certain rise and fall of patters that finds some sort of expression in quadruple form. Regardless, Usnea make a much different use of this structure than Yob: instead of each track displaying a back and forth swerve between melancholy and heavyness, this album simply delves deeper and deeper. Opening track ‘Lying In Ruin’ features some of the most ear popping sound dynamics of the year: the pressure borne from the extremely low guitars and tolling drums creates an almost physical force upon the ear. In conjunction with this, the deep vocals are even more destructive than Yob’s, if that’s even possible. Passing almost completely on articulation, they are another, deeply bass, instrument.
Higher note vocals, more similar to Thou’s abrasive screeches, are more heavily used on the second track ‘Healing Through Death’. The sound on this track is a tad more relaxed, giving our ears some much needed respite but there is no paucity in interesting composition and hooks here either. However, any rest provided by that is quickly squashed by the composition: the track is much slower, with a middle melancholic parts that shatters the heart. When the low vocals return beneath the morose guitars, the aural world that was so carefully built collapses around us. The track only gets slower and slower, with the drums returning to their churning role near the end. Ending on reverberating notes that echo none other than Earth, ‘Healing Through Death’ is by far the best track on this album.
The title track continues this guitar-centric path, opening with haunting chords placed over static that sounds like a wind blowing out of some forlorn sea. This line is soon joined by Gregorian singing, chanting over the continuing guitars. This is finally replaced by another return to the Thou-influenced style: abrasive screams crown rolling chords, slowly losing momentum and forward motion. However, this too doesn’t last long as the guitars pick up pace alongside the return of the heavier growls. ‘Random Cosmic Violence’ is the most dynamic of the tracks on the album, pinging back and forth the different styles present on it. Near its end it collapses into insanity, with the drums turning to fast, black metal influenced double bass and the guitars scattering all over the composition.
How do you even close an album like this? The answer is by going all out with the last track, ‘Detritus’, by slowing everything down even further. ‘Detritus’ ends not with silence, but with a slow dwindling away of its main riff. Almost as if reluctant to let you go, the album only slowly relinquishes its hold on you. ‘Detritus’ hints at all elements contained in the previous three tracks and finally cordons off Random Cosmic Violence with a clear and vivid message: this was an assault on your ears. That gut wrenching sensation that we felt throughout the album? That’s where Usnea work best, like their brethren in arms; where the music hits deepest.
Usnea’s Random Cosmic Violence gets…