Release Date: September 22, 2017
Label: Neurot Recordings
f the various words and phrases that might come to mind when considering Italian cosmic doom masters Ufomammut, ‘concise’ is probably pretty low on the list. Yet that’s exactly one of the most striking impressions made by 8, their aptly-titled eighth long-player and third for Neurot Recordings behind 2015’s Ecate and the preceding 2012 two-parter, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. At 47:16, it’s about as long as was Ecate, but it uses its time for eight songs instead of that record’s six, and would seem to be continuing a progression toward efficiency of approach that record set forth, drawing back from the expanses of Oro or 2010’s single-song Eve in favor of a more immediate sonic impact. Of course, it’s still Ufomammut we’re talking about. Even when they were in their nascent stages across early releases like 2000’s Godlike Snake, 2004’s Snailking or 2005’s Lucifer Songs before 2008’s Idolum really marked the point of their arrival to wider consciousness as stylistic innovators (which they already had been for years at that point, but still), they went big in terms of sound, and 8offers plenty of expanse, whether it’s in the nine-minute reaches of “Zodiac” or the radical tempo shifts of “Prismaze.”
But it becomes a question of context. 8 is Ufomammut‘s first album in more than a decade on which no song passes the mark of being 10 minutes long — that’s counting Eve as one track — and it’s not just about runtime. While opener “Babel” sets 8 in motion at a steady roll, not necessarily in a rush but not gruelingly slow either, tripping out in its second half as bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Urlo, guitarist/keyboardist Poia and drummer Vita, set up an apex of crush to follow, subsequent cuts “Warsheep” and “Zodiac” build a tension that extends well past the midpoint of the latter and even then only recedes momentarily before reigniting. And as 8 continues to move forward, it becomes increasingly clear that the character of the album is as much about head-down intensity as it is about the sense of galactic expansion that seems to have always been so essential to Ufomammut‘s output.
As it invariably would, 8 brings new context to the turn of approach that really started with Ecate coming off of Oro, the 2015 outing serving as the point at which Ufomammut embarked on the redirection that continues here in songs like the thrusting four-minute “Fatum” or the aforementioned “Prismaze” that follows — both with their space-bound aspects, both with an overarching vibe of getting down to business as quickly as possible. But whether taken as part of the ongoing narrative of the three-piece’s progression or on its own merits, the album unquestionably succeeds in what it seems to set out to do, which is to blend expanse of sound with lung-collapsing tonal and rhythmic crush. There is much about it that will be familiar to longtime followers of the band, from the way its tracks jump right from one to the next — often in time or with noted and purposefully jarring tempo shifts, like different movements of one whole work — to the watery effects on Urlo‘s vocals, but as identifiable as these elements are, Ufomammut continue to develop their craft as well, and while some individual pieces throughout may be shorter, there’s no question of the purpose in how they’re tied together.
It’s audible in the crash that bridges “Prismaze” and “Core” and in the way the penultimate “Wombdemonium” — the shortest cut on 8 at just three minutes long — feeds into the Isis-style drum patterning of closer “Psyrcle.” Those connections definitely become more prevalent across side B, which before hitting the “Psyrcle” (7:44) moves through the already-noted shorter cuts, as opposed to “Babel” (8:23) “Warsheep” (5:06) and “Zodiac” (9:27) on side A, but even as “Zodiac” slams into its swirling finish before the chugging opening riff of “Fatum” takes hold — another direct transition for those listening digitally or on CD, in indeed I’m even right about where the vinyl divides — the band makes it plain that how one song converses with its surroundings is as important to the entire work of 8 as the standout moments of each song itself, be it devastatingly heavy, manic push and shouts of “Core” or the build that seems to take place in condensed fashion across “Warsheep” earlier, that track resolving itself in a Sleep-worthy nod at its midpoint before a tempo kick brings it to its final movement.
And if one thinks about the title, 8, it kind of makes sense — at least in a similar, on-their-own-wavelength manner as to thinking of the tracks as concise. It’s not just about the number eight, or the fact that this is Ufomammut‘s eighth long-player — it’s their ninth if we count Oro‘s two parts individually or consider the 2014 15th anniversary release, XV
— but the shape of it. Imagine taking the number and stretching it out to a single, straight line. Now draw it back and twist it on itself. It loops around. It intertwines. 8, the album, functions much the same way. The material that comprises it can be taken as individual bursts, but each serves the richer notion of the whole (the proverbial “greater sum”) when brought together, and in that regard, stark changes like the way “Zodiac” seems to come to halt before lurching forth again with some of the most universe-swallowing noise here presented, or the way “Psyrcle” hits its brakes after three minutes in from its initial verses peppered with extra vocal layers — are those children singing? — and explodes in a fury of double-kick drum gallop and brain-searing fretwork, become fragments of a larger musical narrative taking shape over the course of the album.
Whether this concept is something Ufomammut embarked on consciously or it’s simply a matter of a fan-nerd reading too much into a progression between tracks, they made the choice to put these songs in this order with the lack of space between them and in so doing give 8 a personality that even as it seems to tighten the reins from Ecatesucceeds in moving Ufomammut stylistically forward. It’s not necessarily just about them getting huger and huger-sounding anymore, but about what can they do within and between the spaces they’re creating. Taking this notion in context with the immediacy of what they’re actually crafting, 8 is all the more an achievement for the nuance it brings to the established parameters of Ufomammut‘s sound and the ways in which the three-piece persist in redrawing their own boundaries. - The Obelisk (http://theobelisk.net/obelisk/2017/08/30/ufomammut-8-review/)