UADA – Djinn (2020)REVIEW

Soothsayers and the sacred mysteries of scorched Earth — From “unclean” origin and concealed from the senses ’til the smoke of ancestral rest fills every orifice, these daimonian whispers cannot hold tutelary intent. They desire the screaming, crackling ache of fire cast its yellowing voice into my bog-standard being; Claw upon shoulder reveals a fresh tattoo’d curse of sight at the end of life and it means to topple all built meaning, purpose. Clutching death’s kin, whirling the serpentous flame-wheel, and now deafening all from respite with a black-and-gaping hole of absurdist defeat the impossibility of manna’s gift is now entirely clear. I’ve nothing but smoke, dirt and lush nostalgia to dream of. Scorch my home of trees, gas the skies of birds, block out the sun and all that remains to adapt to is subterranean blindness — Worms, eyeless chittering shit-farmers, and dripping molds. The eternal hour of Portland, Oregon stationed mystic melodic black metal quartet Uada‘s third full-length album ‘Djinn‘ is ominous possession masterfully ‘sorceled with the strength to drive men, in slumping fits, back to the primitivity of caves without even cloth to temper the apocalyptic burns across our backs. Embrace the darkest age belligerent generations can remember while feasting upon the still-scattering fleshy remnants of armageddon and become horrific shrieking skeletal waste as this unstoppable void advances, accept the grasp of ‘Djinn’.

Dig where you like for melodious black metal art, most permutations today stream dolled up, post-rock chord stilted unintentional approximations of Satanic Warmaster while others have pulled the lifeforce from third-rate Dissection clones the last two decades. The true damned catch-22 of the digital age is that you can buy ‘Storm of the Light’s Bane’ on vinyl for twenty bucks at your average supermarket but you’ll get a blank stare mentioning Sacramentum anywhere near the rack. And I’m not necessarily grousing about it, without so many active participants melodic black metal wouldn’t have evolved its modern maestros, those pushing classic forms further ah via Mgła, Sargeist, and Uada. Despite the occasionally reductive opinion that might sprout up amongst meloblack detraction, these are three very distinct entities that are not necessarily arranged next to one another with any true relation, though they do all bear some adoration of black metal’s more “musical” traditional spectrum. Uada formed much later than many of their contemporaries today, having sprouted from musician Jake Superchi‘s (ex-Ceremonial Castings) mind circa 2014 in concert with fellow Portland/Vancouver black metal lifer and second guitarist James Sloan (Aleynmord, ex-Infernus). Assuredly, this instantaneous high-achieving readiness and solar aptitude comes via their veteran status and… whatever supernatural ability allows them to focus on said craft with both feeling and attack in mind. This attainment-on-high speaks for itself in the progression of Uada‘s carefully attuned discography wherein each new record transgresses the last and leaves it behind, a bloody carapace.

It wasn’t necessarily an overnight phenomenon but ‘Devoid of Light‘ (2016) caught on quite fast as a sharp example of modern melodic black metal retaining some elements of classic traits, some timely occult black metal interest and a very slight ‘modern atmospheric’ edge that most would suggest was more Polish than Finnish in affect at the time. I am a big fan of that record, the drumming is not brilliantly rendered but it was simple-yet-affecting and always easy to approach. Being compared to Mgła endlessly is certainly not the worst place for a project to start, though many would use it in hand-flapping dismissal as their second, arguably superior release (‘Cult of a Dying Sun‘, 2018) arrived. This sophomore work eased away some of the project’s Inquisition-esque stomping mysticism and pushed for less rigid vocal than previous, rising to some considerable triumphant peaks while still largely avoiding any ‘modern’ rock sourced melodicism. Thematic melodic tact was yet the coming fringe interest informing its gait and you could see a breakthrough on the horizon. A certain sickly sweet characteristic which, in terms of extreme metal, has more to do with records like ‘Souvlaki’ and cretaceous jangle-pop aesthetics than I typically care for was hinted at peak intensity, however subtle. This development comes front and center even more on this third album as Uada escapes that also-ran feeling of groups like Selbst or Gaera, who’ve risen to a certain stature with (what I’d consider) a less defined point of view and step more into their own thread of melodic black metal hierophany. What does this mean in practical terms for the listener? The downward-directional release of depressive and spaced-case rock music colors ‘Djinn’ boldly outside the lines of typically achieved consonant black metal formulae, shoegazing towards a glorious obsidian world below without a moment of cloying gravitas. This may build a shocking amount of downtrodden pageantry for the meloblack traditionalist, it surely feels like a leap far beyond ‘Cult of a Dying Sun’ as it plays. This is, of course, a general statement and dissecting the full hour-long double LP experience into four major major movements is the only way to see the forest for the trees, razed or not.

You will not likely feel nihilistic damnation as ‘Djinn’ flings its first pairing of 7-8 minute ‘epic’ melodic black metal hammers your way. The album stylistically picks up exactly where the prior was headed, toying with the blank-faced pallor of apocalyptic rock and quickly pulling back towards textures worthy of Sacramentum or nearby ruthlessness. Since I typically avoid preview tracks from records I’m anticipating, granting myself some fleeting pleasure in bated surprise, the title track (“Djinn“) and its opening salvo of rock-stomping, triumphant post-hardcore feeling riffs was immediately jarring and glorious at once; Surreal and imaginative yet still fittingly “Uada” in voice just, a louder claim of their plot than before. For an eight minute opener from a band who’d probably relied on repetition far too often on their second record that opening fire is impressive for its ability to carry its core hook and a central riff into numerous variations that use a bit of crossfire between the two to adorn or emphasize transitional moments. It is yet an approachable song structure applied to resonant and ‘felt’ sentiment and this is only amplified on “The Great Mirage” with its incredible epic heavy metal lead guitar hook conveying some considerable poignancy with the approachable intimacy of peak October Tide. Damnation comes within a personal yet expansive narrative vision as ‘Djinn’ unveils the path to its first of two 13+ minute pieces, each representing their own side of the double LP. “No Place Here” arrives with the conceit of earnest engagement from the listener and capitalizes upon it with some intense wilderness crafted from blustering but never truly angular rhythm guitar whips. I don’t doubt that Superchi, who is the sole songwriter, first composes these pieces with an electric guitar and even if that is the wrong instinct on my part the results are undoubtedly ‘guitar music’ that speaks to the black metal rhythm guitarist first and foremost. The intention of this over-sized arrangement is surely an immersive sense of the skies shaken wide open and the individual most alone, yet the kicking art rock beats scattered throughout and the upturned thread of melodic leads that laces across the piece feel unusually hopeful within the damning cut of the major rhythmic motif that separates each of the ‘three act’ song. In this case I am probably to graced by the post-punk dejection of the last third of the piece to begin to complain about certain riffs that probably deserve less reprisals than are granted.

Side C doesn’t necessarily feel like a paradigm shift but instead “In the Absence of Matter” offers a chance to work in deeper quivering spoken-sung parts that erupted into spiritual rants and chest-beating leads. That hint of crawling Inquisition-esque riffing from earlier albums may have been a coincidence of communication in hindsight as some of the guitar techniques (or, riffs I suppose) express that same lunging feeling with some profound modulation that feels more sly and adept as markers of movement within the piece. This is compounded even more around the 6:26 minute mark, and perhaps speaks to years of osmosis via Immortal‘s later post-’97 records more than anything else. This is also where I’d suggest more recent Sargeist records have adopted similar mastery of this sort of melodic form isolated and translated in black metal guitar language but I believe Uada bring entirely different basal shrugging sad-rock influences to their sound. “Forestless” stings like the acridity of the sunless skies that have entombed me for weeks, this almost begins to speak to Glorior Belli as it ends, not fully swinging into “southern rock” tropes but certainly swinging towards something less depressive and more guts-driven. This was the piece that’d confused me as its groove-heavy grind-and-sweep interjections transpose in even more pronounced form as breaks within the second major sojourn, Side D and the full 14 minutes of “Between Two Worlds”. It isn’t as if Uada have written ‘Amok’ here in terms of heavy rock influences but these moments do have some lasting impact in reflection of the full listen, which is quite long at a full hour yet it will only drag if you were not invested in the first couple of pieces. I’d actually begin to start suggesting this album has some considerable-yet-understated infusion of melodic death/doom into is core driver and it’d finally clicked for me when the primal roar hit at the 6:00 minute mark on the closing piece, complete with deathly use of pinch harmonics as the moment comes and goes to great effect.

Engrossing and generally inspired throughout no doubt the full listen of ‘Djinn’ will drag for folks who aren’t willing to hang on every phrase and riff uttered. I found myself favoring the first half of the record to start before coming around to the back half of the experience, particularly appreciating the ‘heavy metal’ excess of the final song but falling for the hooks of “The Great Mirage” a hundred times over. The drumming here (performance via Josiah Babcock, engineering via Charlie Koryn) meets a high standard but doesn’t entirely stand out; The flattening thud of ‘Devoid of Light’ is long gone though there are a few moments where the double-bass drumming intensity does overpower a subtler part of a song, such as the kick off of the opener. Superchi‘s production efforts here offer the best, most clarified sound Uada have achieved to date and a master from Greg Chandler warms things nicely, balancing out what fees like it could’ve been a bass-imploded black metal record in the wrong hands. Yet every part of ‘Djinn’ appears to be in good hands including the symbolic event captured in Kris Verwimp‘s artwork, which appears representative of the duality that ties together the lyrical themes of all three albums thus far. The only point where I’d pause in reflection is when it comes time to make a recommendation. Is it a blatant step towards bigger (read: catchier) pastures, or simply bigger by virtue of its detailed and ranting perfectionism? Sort of, and yes.

Melodic black metal is universally the most accessible, readable format for the sub-genre’s many tendril’d embodiment and ‘Djinn’ is a prime example of rhythmic muscle balanced with charming finesse. It is a damning and sorrowful spin before it becomes a warming sojourn beyond and this won’t (initially) match up perfectly with the suggested thematic realms of esoteric daimonian shadows and the fuming hidden misanthropy of eldest supernatural forces. It may not be direct, dry-scalding nihilism to a point but the lyrics are esoteric and indulgent enough that the reality of all documents divulged is probably far more interesting and repeatable than any presupposed cannon blast of non-specific fatalism I could’ve imagined. Zooming out from any finer points and focusing on the listening experience, this is a new threshold for Uada that is appreciably easy to pick up and yet entirely daunting to complete and as a result it will be polarizing in reflection for the shared reality of “accessible b/w heavy commitment”. I’m leaning slightly more positive than I think most will be in the long run, the longer pieces speak to the delight of my attention span. Beyond that, I found ‘Djinn’ to be the most inspired and successfully melodic Uada have been whilst arriving upon a sound refined enough that it can be called their own. A high recommendation.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
RELEASE DATE:September 25th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Melodic Black Metal

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