Review / Ufomammut – Fenice

Since 1999, Italian psych-doom trio Ufomammut have been standing their ground amidst the huge influx of doom and stoner bands prominent throughout the 2000s and 2010s; a time for the “slow and heavy” that was rich with both innovators and imitators. Ufomammut have placed themselves undeniably with the former; more than just another Church of Iommi congregation, they interlace their subterranean blues fuzz with extraterrestrial synths and film samples, sport vocals that range from Hawkwind-lineage psychedelic to post-hardcore abrasive, and showcase sprawling and adventurous compositions reminiscent of krautrock’s most acclaimed practitioners.

The search for ultimate guitar tone is a quest shared my countless bands throughout metal yet nowhere else does it seem more important than with styles like stoner and doom where the endless reiterations of seismic Sabbath-homage blues can sometimes require that unique tonal flair or added punch in order to stand out from the pack. On their newest release, Fenice, Ufomammut have further perfected their tone; the relentless levels of growling fuzz on both guitar and bass are enormous, and their layerings of ground-shaking riffs with extraterrestrial synths make for an unforgettable sound—huge, spiraling and utterly abductive. As usual, the compositions are divided by lighter spaced-out intermissions, which as much as they contribute to the structural integrity of the album, it’s ironically in these sections rather than with the huge audio spectrum-bursting distorted passages where the mix can get a little muddy, with the fuzzed-out bass, synths and reverb-heavy vox occasionally fighting for space.

‘Pyramind’ is a stand-out track, with its beautiful, droning drawn-out lead guitars and its earthquake heaviness; at times it rivals even Electric Wizard in its marriage of the outright destructive and obscenely trippy. At just under the 3-minute mark—the shortest track on the record—one might think that album closer ‘Empyros’ could be an unassuming outro; maybe one of their quieter moments leading to a fade-out. Instead Ufomammut pummell us for the whole duration with an absolute sludgefest of chromatic riff variations, closing off the record with perhaps its most aggressive moment.

Fenice is their shortest full-length to date, at just over 38 minutes, their previous efforts running from 40 up to even 70 minutes. It can seem like an unavoidable trope sometimes for “slow and heavy” bands to expand not just their track lengths but also album lengths to bloated play times. Fenice is a fine example of when less is more, and a success in leaving the listener wanting rather than stuffed.

Fenice is out now on Neurot Recordings and can be ordered here.

Words: Rory Hughes

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