Uzala, Live at Roadburn MMXV: Off to the Gallows

uzala live at roadburn mmxv

If you turn the volume way up at the end of “Seven Veils,” after Uzala guitarist Chad Remains announces they’re going to play a new song, you can hear some dork in the crowd ask, “What’s it called?” I’m that dork, and in the interest of full disclosure (and a bit of bragging), I also took the photos that appear on the cover of the Boise, Idaho, trio’s Live at Roadburn MMXV document of that set at the 013 venue, the first night of this year’s Roadburn fest in Tilburg, the Netherlands (review here). I said at the time and have noted since that the performance by Uzala — Remains, bassist/vocalist Darcy Nutt and drummer Chuck Watkins — was something special, and while I’d hardly consider myself impartial in doing so, I’ll say the same for the six-track/50-minute live album (digital out now, vinyl early 2016, both through Burning World Records) that captures its feedback-drenched ethereal plod, as gorgeous as it is grueling and most effective when it’s both at once.

Across the span, Uzala dole out churning riffs and slow-crawling malevolence, as Nutt recounts various medieval terrors, her voice cutting through the tonal morass of her bass and Remains‘ guitar, all poise and zero posturing, the overarching lurch of “Countess” from 2013’s Tales of Blood and Fire setting the bar high as the set-opener for what’s to follow. In their momentum, in their engagement with the crowd and in the dark red sense of psychedelia they brought to their material even on the stage, how raw it both was and wasn’t, Uzala delivered one of that weekend’s most memorable sets. Not everyone who listens to Live at Roadburn MMXV will have that associative framework — i.e. they won’t all have been there — but I think the set stands up even if you didn’t happen to be in front of the Green Room stage letting it punch you in the face.

Tales of Blood and Fire is, reasonably, the focal point of the set. Uzala‘s second LP behind 2012’s self-titled (track premiere here), a 12″ single and a 2012 split with Mala Suerte (streamed here), it was a noteworthy step forward from the first album for the atmosphere it was able to cast — ritualized without a dogmatic adherence to genre. In addition to “Countess,” they include “Seven Veils” and “Dark Days” from the record. Those two appear in succession as the opener and second cut on Tales, but are spread out on Live at Roadburn MMXV, and the longer “Countess” makes a nodding launch to the set to lead into the commanding lumber of “Seven Veils,” Remains setting up the song’s chorus beforehand by responding to an “I love your wife!” shout from the crowd (not me) with, “I love your wife. And your girlfriend,” before calling for the head of John the Baptist and clicking into the feedback from whence the song starts.

Ultimately one of two new songs included, “The Gallows” rounds out side A of the live vinyl with a more uptempo, swinging take. It’s the shortest piece on Live at Roadburn MMXV — the track runs 5:30, and the song itself is shorter — but lacks nothing for expansiveness, Nutt echoing out a chorus of “ohhs” before a noisy guitar solo kept in fluid motion by Watkins‘ drumming. Just before the halfway point, “The Gallows” transitions into a particularly doomed march, returning to the verse progression before finishing in a swell of amp noise. The room responds vehemently, and reasonably so. “This is a song about being burned at the fucking stake,” Remains says just before they hit into “Dark Days,” adding, “Don’t burn your steak.”

uzala

Though somewhat shorter than it is in its album incarnation, the Vitus-esque “Dark Days” is a compelling argument for Tales of Blood and Fire in itself and Uzala‘s approach overall, an opportunity for vocal showcasing that Nutt absolutely nails on Live at Roadburn MMXV and an ambient take on doom that’s hypnotic without being redundant, which is a finer line to walk than the stomp in the song itself might lead the listener to believe. The second new song, “Shores,” takes hold directly from “Dark Days” and opens with a sparse and murky guitar line gradually built up over the first three minutes or so until it seems like Watkins can’t take it anymore and loses it on his toms, propelling the energy of the track forward.

Obviously that’s scripted into the song — I don’t actually think the drummer lost his patience — but it’s an effective turn and all the more because the transition back to the initial, slower pace is pulled off without a hitch. “Shores” builds again its second half toward a climactic finish that in many other contexts would be straight-up psychedelic rock, but here never seems to lose its bleak intent. More feedback shifts into “Death Masque,” from the self-titled, which provides an especially chaotic closeout to the set, mounting an initial tension in the drums before the first verse and never quite letting that slip as it makes its way, noisily, but melodically, through an oppressive landscape of nodding doom. Right around the eight-minute mark, they crash out a couple times and commence quickly tearing the song apart with feedback, noise and drum fills, and that’s how Live at Roadburn MMXV caps, some final words from Remains and calls for more manipulated to give a sense of the room being transformed by what it just witnessed.

Again, I’ll make no claim toward objectivity when it comes to listening to Live at Roadburn MMXV, but whether it’s as a complement to Tales of Blood and Fire or a precursor to their yet-unannounced next release with the new songs, their Roadburn set is a beast to behold, and if having been there affords me any authority at all on the subject, let it be to say that the live album accurately reflects how it went down on stage. They actually were this crisp and this on-point throughout their time in the Green Room, and at a fest where the impulse to be pulled in (at least) five directions at once, it was the kind of thing you couldn’t help but stand and watch front to back. I’m glad I did, and I’m glad I have Uzala‘s Live at Roadburn MMXV to remember it by.

Uzala, Live at Roadburn MMXV (2015)

Uzala on Thee Facebooks

Uzala on Bandcamp

Burning World Records/Roadburn Records

Burning World Records on Bandcamp

Roadburn Festival

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One Response to “Uzala, Live at Roadburn MMXV: Off to the Gallows”

  1. […] is what JJ over at The Obelisk had to say about the gig and the recordings. “I’ll make no claim toward objectivity when it […]

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