Oro: Opus Primum
One of the things I admire about a group like Italy's Ufomammut is that they manage to live and survive as a 'perimeter' metal band. Unquestionably heavy, yes, but enduring the years waaay out on the outskirts where their appeal is limited to a comparably thin, yet exceptionally devoted, herd of followers. To put it simply: Ufomammut's brand of heavy ain't for everyone, even if you count yourself a tried-and-true member of our organization. But for the more adventurous metaller with an ear for psychedelic space truckin' cosmic trance stoner doom delivered with a tera-ton fist, these dudes have been delivering the sweet goods for going on twelve years now.
'Atmosphere' has always been the key driving force behind the band's appeal. And yes, one could easily argue that all music creates (or perhaps more accurately, enhances) atmosphere, but Ufomammut takes the relationship to another level, combining all their key components into a gradually swirling and crescendoing 'perfect storm' that feels as if it takes on a life of its own before eventually bulldozing the entire neighborhood. That wizardly element of the band--the one that casts the spell, works it up into a fury, and then stands back and watches it run amok--that's what makes their work such a compelling thing to study. And it's a principle reason why a lot of us keep coming back when there's something new on the table.
To many, 2010's incredible Eve was a near-flawless representation of that perfect storm; one immaculate 45-minute swirling venture that spliced the crescendoing post-rock approach of Mogwai with the trippy improvisational side of lava-lamp rockers such as Amon Düül or Eloy, rounded out with the planet-heavy wallop of outfits such as Electric Wizard, Sleep or Yob. A true triumph of cosmic, predominantly instrumental stoner metal. Which begs the question, just how the hell do you approach the follow-up of something many fans consider to be a classic? The most obvious answer would be to create something even longer and MORE sprawling, which, in effect, is the general idea idea behind Oro, but… different.
"I've never liked albums that are too long. If I think about our previous albums, I probably fought to have them shorter; there's always something 'too much' about them." ~ Urlo (bass/keys/vocals) from the recent interview with The Quietus.
Oro ('gold' in Italian) is a 90-minute song broken into two albums. Part one, Opus Primum (51 minutes), is now available through the good folks at Neurot Recordings, and part two, Opus Alter (40 minutes), will see a release in September of this year.
The casual listener might not perceive a huge difference from the band's 2010 stance, but Oro: Opus Primum sports a tactfully different approach, despite showcasing all the signature Ufo-elements we've come to expect. It's tricky grounds for dissection, however, as so much of the band's allure relies on intangible sensibilities that differ from one set of ears to the next. Reoccurring components once again tie pieces/parts of the five measures together--the dark, John Carpenter-esque keyboard trimming at the heart of opener "Empireum" and throughout "Magickon," for example, or the repeating distorted extraterrestrial babble that crops up now and again--but the album as a whole feels more grounded compared to Eve, and the elaborations even more intense, so you'll be attentive while listening to Opus Primum, even when things are their most hypnotic. It's essentially a more pleasant version of the open-eyeball scene in A Clockwork Orange, dragged through molasses. To further drive home the point, whether it was intentional or not, the aforementioned creepy little keyboard flourish is a very memorable embellishment--perhaps the closest thing to a 'hook' the band's ever employed--so it has a strange sort of grounding effect.
In terms of heaviness, Ufomammut's other key selling point, production and overall approach be praised, because this is undoubtedly the heftiest material the band has assembled to date. In fact, I find it difficult to imagine that we'll hear a tune as heavy as "Aureum" for the remainder of 2012. From its opening seconds to the stretched 12.5 minute mark, this clouter delivers a hammer sandwich dense enough to knock Galactus flat on his ass. Like 'Lysol-era Melvins in a full suit of armor trudging through four feet of snow' kind of heavy, so be sure to let it breathe through a healthy set of speakers for maximum effect. And just when you think things couldn't possibly get more ponderous, the eight-minute mark hits and Urlo's bass ropes out a galumphing set of brown notes deep enough to loosen the bowels of Zeus himself -- Joe Preston/Thrones would definitely be proud.
I'd say the biggest risk with regard to Oro has to do with the decision to break things up into two records; something that mostly failed for Earth already this year. If done right, the payoff could be big. But the idea of playing one album right after the other to encourage some semblance of a 'full picture' is definitely a gamble. Part One has suitably shaken me, however, so that's a sizable step in the right direction. Whether or not Oro eventually manages to go beyond something as wonderfully indulgent as Eve obviously depends on how well Part Two stacks up to Opus Primum. But I'm awake. I'm alert. And I'm looking forward to September.