Usnea – Portals into Futility Review

Band: Usnea
Album: Portals into Futility
Label: Relapse Records
Genre: Doom Sludge
Country: USA
Release Date: 8 September, 2017

This is some heavy stuff.

From the opening guitar strains of “Eidolons and the Increate,” you know immediately, and I do mean immediately, you’re not in happy territory here. Choral vocals slip in next, adding a layer of gloom, and then a little drum roll, and the crushing riff follows. Screamed vocals give voice to anguish, and slowly, oh so slowly, the doom overtakes you. This opener is a template for all that will follow: smothering, sludgy hopelessness, painted with strains of melody that bring out the beauty in the darkness. The song cascades and rumbles to the point of flirting with being epic, before dropping back down into desolate melody and atmosphere. Usnea are not throwing a party; instead, this is music for a funeral.

Second track, “Lathe of Heaven,” continues the downward spiral. Spattering strains of guitar and low-key drums start the track. Again: slow, languid, ethereal. The guys allow the music to build on its own, organically, no rush, no hurry, taking its time thank you very much. Just about three minutes in, the crushing riffs start, accompanied by the guttural growls. Steady, even, never trying to speed up. Grinding and soul-crushing, with just enough in the way of dynamics to keep it from growing boring, the song eventually reaches a wonderful, melodic, but still haunting, refrain.

“Demon Haunted World,” the shortest track on the record, starts with discordant feedback and then gets right to business. Screamed vocals, along with riffs, usher in the pain. Growls follow, echo, and accentuate the screams. This song is pure, slow, tortured torment. It really lives up to its name. The mid-point of the record, you can really feel the vice closing, the trap catching, and you realize there’s no way out now. You’re too far down the darkened corridors of this haunted sonicscape.

“Pyrrhic Victory” equals instant crunch right out of the gate. No speed at all, just slow, desperate heaviness. This song is really the make it or break it point for this album. Even though we’re only four tracks in, the sludge can get to be too much here. I found myself longing for a little upping of the tempo, for some gallop to come along. Instead, Usnea doubles down and slows it down even more at the four minute mark. These guys are committed to what they do, for better or for worse. And you, as a listener, will know if you’re all the way in or not by the time this song is finished. Oh, and it’s a fine song, too, right along with its travel mates.

Closer, “A Crown of Desolation,” returns a bit to the second track, with its beautiful, melodious guitar opening, laced with some bleak, lonely piano. The riff comes in, as it always does and always will, a reminder that there is no hope here, despite the melodic substructures. They bring back the choral feel of the opening track, this one acting almost as a summary of what has come before it, a coda, and yet it is its own song, moving along with a trudge and a grunt. There’s a touch of the cosmic here, an echo of the blackness between the stars, and how it manifest deep in the souls of man. Again, this isn’t cheery music. This one bleeds out into lone guitar, growing more and more sparse until it all fades into almost nothingness. But the riffs return, along with some screams, and the song builds back up again. At almost twenty minutes in length, this is a test for those not into Sludge or Doom, but if you’re not into those, you’re probably long gone by now, anyway. An excellent end to a really good record.

Born in Portland, Oregon, there is nothing slightly hipster about this band. They’re all about depression combined with sinewy strength, in both lyrics and music. Here, on the third release by this unrelenting quartet, we find a cross-section of Doom and Sludge mixed with just enough underpinnings of Death and Crust soundscapes to always keep things interesting and moving, even if you do feel like you’re trudging through quicksand.

Usnea brings the darkness, they bring the pain and agony, and they do it in an excruciatingly slow kind of way. Fans of depressive Doom will absolutely fall in love with this, and this will probably be your album of the year. It’s a sold 8 on the rating scale, but only if you’re into this style. If you’re not, it’s best you stay away. This blackened slab of cruelty and unrelease will surely burn your soul in ways you’re not accustomed to. For the rest of us who like this music, we’ll bask in the waves of suffocating heaviness, thank you very much.

Rating: 8/10

1. Eidolons and the Increate
2. Lathe of Heaven
3. Demon Haunted World
4. Pyrrhic Victory
5. A Crown of Desolatin

Total Playing Time: 55:44

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