Usnea – Portals Into Futility (2017) REVIEW

The initial appeal of Usnea as a sludge/death metal band was their ability to weave in elements of doom metal and black metal within the confines of their oppressive, semi-modern sludge style. Their second release ‘Random Cosmic Violence’ was a messy, daring froth of growling, mournful singing, and droopy atmospheric death/doom. Savage riff-craft steered into black/death territory and blended with raw sludge tonality. Occasionally hissed vocals and jangly atmospheric guitars created a tension-and-release that often rubber-banded into something darkly special. On their third full-length Usnea have changed tone drastically for the sake of a more focused and accessible sound. It is unfortunate that they’ve become near-tragically boring as a result. Something more stable, mature and less youthfully abrasive has settled over these depressive doom/death folks and I’m not in love with it the same way I was with the previous album.

Usnea totally wants to chill me out. They’ve taken their style further from Evoken and landed closer to Indian by way of Neurosis‘ ‘Times of Grace’-era late aggro-sludgery. The sound now focuses so much on melancholy, and not enough on riffs, that it resembles a death metal version of Minsk. After several spins I started to lose the plot. The first symptom had me asking myself “Why doesn’t the band just get to the point?” When they do hit a big buzzing riff, once per song (which are shorter this time around), the soft-hearted atmosphere ceases to matter; it doesn’t live up to the power of their rumbling death/sludge riffs. A few of these songs could pass for pre-2016 Pallbearer with death metal vocals. That isn’t a slight, but I want to illustrate that most of the atmospheric parts sound ‘feigned’ soft and lacks any progression in its slow pointlessness. It shows a lack of realized potential that could have made for a more accessible, or just heavier album.

This style of sludge/death/doom has been done to greater effect and with more interesting variation. Ahab‘s ‘The Boats of the Glen Carrig’ album from 2015 is a great example of how to do the atmospheric sludge soft-boy thing while still retaining a viable death metal edge. By comparison I’m getting an unfocused death metal album from the Usnea guys who are probably better off creating digestible atmospheric sludge rock or sludge riff focused death metal, instead of trying to do both. Too many others do it better. I think this band has limitless potential for growth in either direction and while I might not be totally pleased with the direction of this album, I’m still a huge fan. I absolutely felt the vibe of the album, all things considered.

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Artist Usnea
Type Album
Released September 8, 2017
BUY/LISTEN on Bandcamp Follow Usnea on Facebook
Try ‘Random Cosmic Violence’ too. Usnea’s Official Website
Genres

Suffocating. 3.0/5.0