8 by UfomammutRelease date: September 22, 2017
Label: Neurot Recordings / Supernaturalcat
Ufomammut’s 17 year arc has been made up of expansion and contraction. Their first trio of records constructed in a straight forward manner, made up of distinct Hawkwind-meets-The-Obsessed tracks. But from there they went in big with the single track record Eve in 2010 and then bigger still with the mammoth two part record Oro: Opus Primum and Opus Alter in 2012. From there they somehow resisted the temptation to make a three album long song and instead deflated back to traditional song lengths with 2015’s stunning Ecate, the record that marked their 15th anniversary. It felt like a closing of a circle, a culmination of a decade and halves experience making forward thinking doom. Which begged the question: where to go from there? When you’ve walked far enough to come back to your starting point, are there any horizons left to explore?
In Ufomammut’s case the answer to that question lie in finding a new method of travel. 8 is their first album recorded live in the studio, with minimal overdubbing after the fact. It’s a change in approach which leads to changes in their sound both subtle and not so subtle. Subtle in that while their usual idiosyncrasies are still in place (the garbled samples that made an appearance way back on Snailking still crop up, there are enough of the usual gargling vocals effects over the course of the record to cover an entire series of Dr Who villains and the sci-fi sound effects that sound like they were raided directly from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop still pulse and shimmer throughout) they’re rather slathered on top at times rather than woven into the tracks.
And not-so-subtle in that this is quite possibly the most straightforward heavy-as-fuck release Ufomammut may have ever put their name to.
It’s a relentless sensory battering ram of a record. The mid-paced churn of opener ‘Babel’ takes a while to achieve escape velocity but from there it’s a one way trip to the heart of the sun. It’s been billed as a return to the one track album sliced into individual sections despite some tracks having a definitive end to them, but either way it sounds like they decided to just riff the living hell out of the material from start to finish. Being in the same studio seems to have spurred them into pushing each other to new heights of intensity – and it’s not like they were shrinking violets before this. There aren’t as many trippy lulls as you’d normally find on a Ufomammut record, it’s more or less a ceaseless blitzkrieg from start to finish. Second track ‘Warsheep’ swings at you like a baseball bat, its heaving bass and megaton riff sounding like they could be weaponised to split planets. Then it transitions to the kaleidoscope of wanton stoner rock fury that is ‘Zodiac’, featuring a searing solo that sounds like it’s carving through time itself like a Christmas Turkey.
And from there it refuses to let up. The sheer density of sound means the psychedelia takes a back seat to the pure energy on display. There are some neat little flourishes here and there, like the female vocals that have been warped to sound almost like a muted trumpet on ‘Psyrcle’, but for the most part the nuance is hard to detect in the maelstrom. But what it loses in intricacy it makes up in brute force, making it no less of a trip than usual, just a different sort of trip. Less laid out on the carpet contemplating infinity than barrelling face first into a black hole, naked, after a warm bath.
And they’re such old hands at this that the precision on display almost goes unnoticed. Playing it live hasn’t led to any sloppiness; the drumming in particular is every bit as tight as it is muscular, with nothing out of place. Just witness the tumbling waterfall of riffs and drum fills that make up ‘Prismaze’. It sounds nasty and sludgy as all all hell, but no more nasty and sludgy than it was intended to sound. It’s inevitable that, after so long working with what one would think would be quite a limiting palette, there are a few overly familiar moments on 8. But what’s remarkable is how hungry Ufomammut sound 17 years into their career. There won’t be many doom albums that can match 8 for head nodding ferocity and pure cosmic savagery in 2017. With the fire they seem to have left in their bellies – and presuming we’re not all radioactive dust by then – I wouldn’t bet against them busting out the most bastard-heavy doom record on their 30th anniversary in 2030 as well.