Usnea
Portals into Futility

The apocalypse finally arrives. Water levels rise; the ground splits in two as previous terraforms are obliterated. Rains pour and fires rage with no end. Lush fields and calm plains instantly turn to sand under the fierce gaze of an unforgiving sun. Mother nature bears no ill will toward mankind but is also supremely unconcerned by our suffering. Life itself has become a luxury that few enjoy under the raging, appalled eye of a destructive cosmos. Time collapses; space compresses to no end. The universe makes no pleasing or placating sounds, only those that unhinge and unravel every hint of what sanity used to be. These sounds are the power of Portals into Futility.

Usnea, one of Oregon’s most inspired doom metal acts, has unleashed heaviness in the form of lengthy tracks filled to the brim with their now-signature brand of black-tinged doom metal since 2011. The facets of their music are many, bringing together monolithic, low-tuned doom and viscous sludge woven with ferocious black metal. This formula has worked wonders for the group thus far, allowing for the creation of compelling music that lacks nothing in terms of both power and atmosphere. Portals into Futility not only continues this fine tradition, but in fact brings Usnea’s music to a level few others may ever hope to achieve.

Every second of this new hour-long effort is designed to bring about utter despair and desolation. The riffs are astonishing and massive in scope, picking apart the formula used by so many other similar doom-drenched bands and retooling it to bring negativity to its lowest point. Every note blasted from the guitars brings not only melancholy, but also unbridled anger. Some moments transport the listener into bottomless pits, while others turn toward the heavens, painting swirling images with beautiful, ethereal dual guitar melodies. There is nothing “fun” to be heard here in the traditional sense of the word; emotionally (and physically), the entire album is akin to slamming one’s head into a gravestone until stone and battered flesh are all that remains. There are moments of introversion when the guitars lose much of their distortion and strum through slow, elongated interludes, allowing for a certain amount of peace or perhaps even hope to pervade the senses. These intervals do very little to comfort the mind, however, often causing an even more intense emotional reaction than the abrasive playing that surrounds them. However, the power summoned forth by the music is undeniable and extremely difficult to shake off. The guitarwork is definitely of a destructive nature, but is equally infectious, worming its way into the listener’s ears and demanding constant attention.

The vocals are varied in style, splitting their time between manic shrieks, demonic growling, and eerie yet majestic chants that layer themselves above the instruments perfectly. In some instances the vocal performance is downright chilling, further cementing the feelings of anxiety and impending doom that the instrumentation already makes so immediate. The percussion is, on the surface, impressively technical yet standard doom metal drumming that segways effortlessly from plodding rhythms into furious tribal drumming. A bit of investment finds that every blow to the drums enhances the overall sound immensely. Rather than simply complementing the other aspects of the music, the percussion actually causes a swelling of intensity that simply cannot be generated by riffs alone. Every hit is flawlessly placed and flows with the other instruments in a way that is rarely reached in this, or any other genre of extreme metal. Usnea has truly perfected the craft of creating music to match the coming of the end.

Along with a strong showing of pure destructive strength, the music presented on Portals into Futility brings forth a strong sense of nuance and mature dynamics. From the first moments of opener “Eidolons and the Increate”, it is clear that every aspect of Usnea’s signature sound has seen improvement and expansion. Many moments that may seem at first to be straightforward reveal themselves to be quite intricate upon repeated listens. The desolate and apocalyptic atmosphere is more completely enveloping than ever before, aided by the impeccable ebb and flow of guitars and drums throughout each track. Tension builds and releases like so many supernovas engulfing their surrounding celestial bodies. A poor production might have been the undoing of an album so invested in such a dense sound. Thankfully, the mixing and mastering are top-notch, providing a sense of grandeur to each track. Every note, beat, and bit of feedback sounds wonderfully disgusting and full of malice. Usnea has dialed back the blackened influence a tad this time around; there are no standard blast-beats to be found, although there is still a fair amount of despondent tremolo picking. This lack of a more direct black metal approach does nothing to detract from the sense of unending evil rooted in the album’s rotten core. In fact, Usnea as a unit sounds more horrifying than ever before. Far from being a casual listen, the band has shaped an album that requires perhaps endless listens in order to truly grasp its depth and breadth. Fortunately, such an investment brings correspondingly ceaseless rewards. Rarely does music played at this glacial pace pass by in such a rush. Every hour spent listening feels like mere minutes and the idea of playing anything else seems almost absurd when there is still so much more to be taken in.

Usnea has never had trouble creating monolithic albums, but Portals into Futility is almost sure to stand tall as their crowning achievement; with little to improve on, it seems unfathomable to imagine any future output surpassing such an immense showing of talent and ingenuity. Only time will tell. That is, if Usnea manages to keep from throwing the planet into the void. An album that makes such an impression is rare to behold and should not be missed, even if listening poses a substantial risk of insanity or even death of the senses. Usnea’s newest album is indeed a portal, one that reaches into the depths of darkness and light to bring chaos and calamity to anyone brave enough to seek it.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Benjamin Cedotal
September 15th, 2017

Comments

  1. Commented by: Red

    This is some good shit! Nice review man. This album pairs up nicely with the massive amounts of Temple of Void I’ve been listening to. \m/


  2. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    I liked this, but it didn’t quite hold my interest like i wanted it to.


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