Earlier this year, Italian space doom trio Ufomammut favored the world with the first half of their Neurot Recordings debut. Oro – Opus Primum (review here) remains a stunning achievement in an increasingly long string of them. 2010’s Eve (review here) was one of that year’s best, and 2008’s Idolum, 2005’s Lucifer Songs and 2004’s Snailking were resounding triumphs as well. Even their first album, 2000’s Godlike Snake (reissued in 2006) impressed in its scope, as did their 2007 collaboration with Lento, and like the universe their sound threatens to encompass at nearly every turn, Ufomammut seem on a course of endless expansion. The second half of Oro, appropriately dubbed Opus Alter, completes the two-part cycle and underscores how right it was for the band to break up the release in the first place. Taken as a whole, the two albums total 10 tracks and 94 minutes of overwhelming tonality, far-off echoing vocals and crushing psychedelic grooves. Oro is an astounding achievement from one of the most pivotal doom acts going. Make no mistake, its every thunderous moment rattles the ground on which it stands, but metaphorically and – if you turn the volume up loud enough to really let bassist Urlo’s low end shine through – literally. But released with Opus Primum and Opus Alter together as the double-album Oro, it might also have simply been too much. Instead, Opus Alter, which is about nine minutes shorter, is a fitting complement to its predecessor, and one that both affirms the ongoing growth of the band as that album presented it and continues to hint at further progression to come. Ufomammut did it right – two remarkable halves of a larger tracklist released in installments so that not a moment seems wasted and their listeners can fully appreciate what they’re doing. No single member of the band, be it Urlo, guitarist Poia or drummer Vita, is really doing anything so different on Opus Alter than they were on Opus Primum – it’s just that now the album has a second half.
It’s a strong one. Urlo and Poia provide prominent keys and synth work even before the doomed sub-shuffle of the instrumental “Oroborus” (one day I’m going to make a list of all the metal songs about ouroboros and the various spellings they use; perhaps this one is a pun on the album’s title) takes full hold, but once it does, there’s no doubt who you’re listening to. The song gets heavy twice. At 2:11, guitars kick in and it seems like the build established is hitting its peak, but then 30 seconds later, the bottom drops out on the low end and Oro – Opus Alter has truly begun. Ufomammut affect a landmark heavy psych build, and for a few minutes it seems like the song is going to live up to its name, just devour itself until there’s nothing left but the various swirls and noises that have come to be such a huge part of Ufomammut’s encompassing ambience, but a little before five minutes into the song’s total 7:55, there’s a break and the bass leads to a faster riff and beyond, to devastatingly heavy plod that finds Vita half-timing it on the drums, his cymbals nonetheless ringing clear the band’s crushing intent. They are so. Fucking. Heavy. The chugging guitar crashes cold, but noise fills out the break between “Oroborus and the subsequent “Luxon,” which – like all the tracks on Opus Alter safe for closer “Deityrant” – also starts quietly, gradually unfolding from its ambience. Deep, slow guitar chords announce “Luxon”’s stomp, and vocals are murky, far off and, to start, indecipherable, but like a distant chorus, they make themselves known anyway before at 1:45, the full breadth of the rumble kicks in and everything else plays off of that. Vocals remain obscure, as is Ufomammut’s wont, but come to the fore over a blissfully stoner groove led by Urlo’s swaying bassline and rounded out by Poia’s own low end. Of the material here, the opening of “Luxon” is among the most effective, though, and its development of parts isn’t exactly linear as opposed to one-into-the-next, but its flow is unquestionable, and there isn’t a turn Ufomammut present that seems out of place or confusing. That holds true as well going into the 12:19 centerpiece, “Sulphurdew,” which gets underway with a churning guitar figure filled out by synth noise and a steady beat from Vita until they reach the next plateau of their build. There are marked changes – another layer of guitar here, crash cymbals introduced here – but they occur in a steady progression of measures, almost so that you expect something to come without knowing exactly what.
After five minutes in, everything but the guitar and the synth noise cuts off and the next section of the song is introduced. Vocals have always been kind of an afterthought for Ufomammut – you don’t really expect them, but you don’t not expect them either – and so they’re not missing from “Sulphurdew,” which has a clearly plotted structure in those measure-changes that makes up for whatever sense of accessibility verses and choruses might bring to the song’s first half. The second, and more openly riffed half of the track – a slow, gradual nod of overarching groove derived from the restrained drums despite an active guitar line – introduces a vocal line, but it’s more the musical swirl that holds the attention, and when the riff kicks back in with the build that will encompass the song’s final three-plus minutes, peaking and then deconstructing itself, that seems to be where Ufomammut’s strength lies. That’s not to take away from Urlo’s vocals, which have developed a distinct style over the course of the band’s catalog and in many instances help enrich the atmosphere of the tracks, just to say that Ufomammut are not a vocals-up-front-leading-the-charge band. When you’re one of the heaviest bands in the world, you don’t have to bother with that kind of thing. “Sulphurdew” transitions seamlessly into the aptly-named “Sublime,” which for me is the highlight of Opus Alter, ranging farther atmospherically than anything else on the album while also keeping in mind its immense aural weight and doing the work of tying the two pieces of Oro together by, in its second half, reintroducing the deep, low bass tone that started off Opus Primum opener “Empireum.” At 9:42, it functions efficiently despite being among the most languid tracks on the record, and with each wash of Vita’s cymbals, its repetition is more and more hypnotic – that might be a case of Ufomammut playing to their strengths but who the hell cares when it works as well as it does. A short sample after 3:30 introduces a riff that if anyone else played it I’d say it sounded like Ufomammut, and the march is soon to commence. At 4:22, the song and album hit their climax. Vita pounds his bass drum, Poia and Urlo are devastatingly heavy, and though they trade back and forth between lighter incarnations of the progression and the heavier, they never lose any of the forward momentum they bring to bear, even as the guitars fade and gradually, even the drums go, leaving – for a few seconds – near silence until the intro from “Empireum” returns just before the eight minute mark.
I wanted them to go further with bringing the two pieces of Oro full-circle, and revive the ringing-note progression of “Empireum” more completely. They don’t. “Sublime” caps with what sounds like Echoplex noise and a quietly spaced-out synth line, but they never really do more than nod at Opus Primum before the track ends. It seems like a missed opportunity to reinforce the totality of Oro as a whole work, but I guess the nod they give does that, and as the shorter, more immediately active “Deityrant” takes hold – its guitar, bass and drums leaving no room for an intro before unleashing their faster stomp – I don’t know that I’d trade one for the other. If anything on Opus Alter leans toward straightforward, it’s “Deityrant,” which continues to climb a mountain of momentum through its first four minutes – the only vocals some distraught-sounding yells amid the chaos and a few spoken samples – until crashing into drones and noise in the last two-plus minutes. The album is over, essentially, before you realize it, because “Deityrant” takes its time ringing out these noises and one half expects Ufommamut to come back and lay down some more heavy plod, but if I’m left wanting more after 90 solid minutes of Oro, that can’t really be a bad thing. Whatever ridiculous internet-“criticism” hyperbole you want to put to it, Ufomammut’s triumph with Oro is as monumental as their tones are large. Theirs is among the finest executions of space doom in the world today, and the two parts of Oro ultimately succeed in picking up where Eve left off without seeming either redundant or a step backwards from that album’s landmark brilliance. What they will do from here and how anyone could even come close to thinking about topping a record like this is unfathomable to me, but I wouldn’t put it past the three-piece, who’ve always managed to outdo themselves in terms both of development of atmosphere and sheer audio tonnage. Oro is no exception. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ufomammut are one of the best bands in the world. Hands down. Recommended.doom metal, Italy, Neurot, Neurot Recordings, Oro Opus Alter, Space doom, Ufomammut, Ufomammut doom, Ufomammut Italy, Ufomammut Neurot, Ufomammut Oro, Ufomammut Oro Opus Alter, Ufomammut Oro Opus Primum