For really longer even than the last decade, Italian trio Ufomammut have been engaged in a battle against themselves. Each new work from the cosmic doomers has had to be bigger, to reach farther, than its predecessor. In 2008, Idolum — their fourth album — solidified this as a central element of their process. Arriving after a 2007 collaboration with Lento, it marked a particularly triumphant moment for the partnership between the band and producer Lorenzo Stecconi, who has helmed all of their recordings since, and in a way has been a blueprint for the various thematics running throughout the band’s synth-laden crushing riffs, far-back, spaced-out vocals and dense rhythms. When their subsequent outing, Eve (review here), arrived in 2010, it had one mission at its core, which was to outdo the record before it. Composed as one long piece — something they had originally intended for Idolum — it was ultimately broken down into tracks for the CD release, but one could hardly call it a failure. For one thing, it led to Ufomammut being signed to Neurot Recordings, the label founded and run by members of Neurosis, for their next outing, which likewise expanded on Eve. Oro would be released in two parts — Oro: Opus Primum (review here) and Oro: Opus Alter (review here) — in 2012, and as they moved past their 15th anniversary last year, an occasion they marked with the XV live DVD/documentary (review here), the central question regarding their seventh album, Ecate, is whether or not Ufomammut could possibly continue their push forward into bigger, wider ranging sound. What are the limits of human consciousness translated to volume?
Any new Ufomammut album brings with it a certain “event” presence. Their works have become so masterful in their presentation of a psychedelic aesthetic and doomed tonal weight that followers new and old — a number in which I count myself — know that there’s reason to be excited. With Ecate, guitarist/keyboardist Poia, bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Urlo and drummer Vita do indeed push beyond Oro, but what they find isn’t something even more grandiose. Perhaps inspired by stopping, really for the first time, to reflect on their past work with the XV release and their “Magickal Mastery Tour” comprising songs from their catalog back to earlier records like 2005’s Lucifer Songs, 2004’s landmark Snailking, and their 2000 debut, Godlike Snake, Ufomammut have arrived with the six-track/46-minute Ecate at a place that both progresses their sound and taps into its very core. Like the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. After flying through the universe in space and time, the character Bowman doesn’t find some overblown interstellar phenomenon. He winds up in a bedroom — a place where the human species is most quintessentially itself; sleeping, screwing, making itself ready to face the world around it. So too in songs like the building opener “Somnium” and bombastic, three-minute follow-up, “Plouton,” do Ufomammut explore the characteristics that make them who they are musically. Waves of claustrophobic riffs churn amid synthesized swirl and percussive thud, a largesse of sound conjured and given shape out of what seems an ether of brazen impact. Once it starts, there is no getting away from “Somnium.” It is a gravity well of tone, introducing much of what Ufomammut will unfold on the songs to come, and thus, emphasizing many of the best aspects of their style. Following the bursting supernova of “Plouton,” “Chaosecret” keeps a more open vibe through its first six minutes or thereabouts, turning for its remaining four into one of Ecate‘s most crushing moments just when it seems to be fading away, marching toward a more and more furious end.
The album is structured into two roughly mirrored halves, in each of which three songs play out, two longer with a shorter one in the middle. “Chaosecret” is the longest cut at 10:47, but neither “Somnium” (9:55) nor closer “Daemons” (10:30) are far off. Following the closing slams of “Chaosecret,” “Temple” launches side B with an initial wall of feedback and more straightforward riffing, perhaps even more than “Plouton” exposing the elemental aspects of Ecate as a whole, obscure, manipulated samples playing out behind the plod, Urlo‘s vocals forward but still buried under the hypnotic riff repetitions, it taps into the overwhelming wash of Ufomammut at their finest, and transitions fluidly into the shorter, ambient “Revelation,” the four minutes of which are dedicated to developing a synthesized swirl and vast reach beyond what has already been set within the other songs. The drone fades gradually, and with the immediate rumble and rhythmic force of its early going, there’s little question when “Daemons” arrives as to what might be its intent. Its push never really subsides, though a verse emerges, still backed by fervent chugging, and leads the way back into an explosive chorus with more strange, indecipherable samples and a thrust toward Ecate‘s final resolution. No real surprise in the thunder or the rage that pays off “Daemons,” but the keyboard lines that follow and smooth the way out of the album prove even more resonant, almost cinematic, before they too fade away. Working from a conceptual basis in the goddess Hecate, who moves between the dead, living and immortals, Ufomammut remain steadfast in their commitment to progressing on the levels of songwriting and performance, but what their seventh full-length ultimately proves is that records don’t necessarily need to constantly get bigger and bigger to show that progression. Ecate tears away at anything less than needed for the band to make their statement, and as the album that will bring them to North America to tour for the first time, they could not hope to arrive carried by sturdier machinations.