Born in the year zero as a noble brought up in neglect and contempt alongside his brother Mishra, the great sorcerer Urza would live well over four thousand years and define himself in defiance of the blackness of Phyrexia and its ruler Yawgmoth. Apprentice to the great artificer and creator of many great machine beasts Urza was eventually beheaded and shamed in his final push to avenge Mishra’s manipulation and the soul-eating grief resultant from the Brother’s War. I’d say Jeff Grub‘s novelization of that war in the Magic: The Gathering universe was the best entry in the Artifacts Cycle series as the other authors would get a bit lost in Urza’s characterization who’d balance light with Mishra’s (Phyrexia manipulated) darkness but, I’m not here for a review of a twenty one year old book series based on a card game I played during elementary school lunch break in the late 80’s. Urza is the chosen name for a fine Berlin, Germany based funeral death/doom metal group who’ve released their stunningly dark debut full-length after roughly four years of formative work and a handful of live shows.
Formed between festival goers in 2015 Urza was initially a casual meeting of bassist Marc Leclerc (Spawn, ex-Kadath), drummer Hannes, and Olli Schreyer (Torn to Pieces, ex-Ophis) that would eventually come to include guitarist Marcus (Witch Ritual) and vocalist Thomas (ex-Desolated, Secretum). Some members are seasoned professionals and others are brand new to the experience but what unites them is both an interest in extreme doom metal and some good taste in death metal. As a fan of funeral doom who first approached the sub-genre due to death/doom crossover moments, I find Urza impressive in their capably balanced crossing of death/doom with funeral doom atmospherics. While you will get satisfaction as a funeral doom fan it’ll be on the spectrum of groups like Fuoco Fatuo, recent Esoteric, and Ahab‘s ‘The Oath’ era to some extent. In interviews the band references ‘Antithesis of Light’ and Bell Witch and I’d say this gives a small window into the atmospheric values of ‘The Omnipresence of Loss’ and makes for a reasonable comparison to Un‘s ‘Sentiment’ from last year, though Urza offer something more palpably ‘death metal’ and more often. Additionally later tracks, specifically “Demystifying the Blackness”, begin to enter the realm of early Katatonia just softly enough that the full hour never feels like a one-dimensional slog.
As exciting as this sort of music is even if many would see it superficially as mere ‘genre entry’, there are many surprises here that make Urza‘s debut something special to behold. What comes to mind first is the break a bit beyond the mid-point of “From The Vaults To Extermination” where sustained feedback rings atop a gloomy, broken bassline and vocalist Thomas has a bit of a psychotic break himself before the song kicks back into a heavy barrel-chested outro. Thomas’ vocals are often bold and offer an admirable set of tones that appear tuned towards the types of slow-motion movements the record offers, and he is quite capable within a death metal blast or a Mournful Congregation-esque opening bellow. There is a sense that they’ve appreciated modern funeral doom artists but not stolen from them, only gathering what is most interesting about funeral death/doom and applying their own compositional ideas. It appears subtle when you’re a die-hard extreme doom fan sludged in a hundred great bands but with some closer attention ‘The Omnipresence of Loss’ offers a deeply sincere bout of doom from fans who are inspired and not just LARPing a neat sub-genre niche.
An hour long extreme doom metal album is such a daunting thing for the average listener so the inherent trouble in spreading the word is that I’ll only reach the most patient folks first, the type of folks who are perhaps the most wise and critically anhedonist. With this in mind I still think Urza are really the most ‘on fire’ when they’re crafting 10+ minute epics that allow for emotional progressions within songs, worlds within a world as it were; The nearly 18 minute opener “Lost in Decline” is so impressive that it threatened to overtake the full listen upon first impression, but the two tracks that follow it keep the momentum going beautifully through my personal favorite track “Path of Tombs”. That momentum-sustaining sense of pace is a strengthening trait also shared by Loss and I think fans of that band would do well to sit with this record with the caveat that the actual sound of either band is quite different.
There are few moments more entertaining to me as a nerd confronted with a ton of music to shred through than when my first impressions of a band are just slightly off. To feel ‘The Omnipresence of Loss’ shift from an average first listen to one of the strongest funeral death/doom records of the year so far is some small reward for giving Urza the patience and consideration to develop within the mind. I’d say these Berlin fellows are doing the sub-genre right and their debut album is well above average. Highly recommended. For preview I’d suggest “Lost in Decline” gives a full range of the general experience, but don’t overlook “Path of Tombs” and “Demystifying the Blackness” as they expand beyond the range of the opener.
Aligned with the magnigoth. 4.25/5.0
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