2016 saw the release of the debut album by Portland’s Uada, entitled Devoid of Light (DoL). It was a top-drawer album on first listen, secured second place in my top 10 records of that year, and remains one of strongest examples of melodic black metal from this decade. Its greatest assets were assuredly its immediacy and infectiousness despite the typically macabre subject matter and black metal tools. A sophomore release is now due called Cult of a Dying Sun (CoaDS) and it faces the burden of unreasonable expectations.
I confess that I did not have a fantastic first experience with CoaDS when its title track was released prior to the album. My initial impression was that it lacked the riffs, fun factor, and memorability of any from DoL. I tried to chalk up this encounter to the record being more of a grower than the debut — aesthetically it is very similar so how different could it be? The guitar tone, chord progressions, vocal style and mix all indicate that this is a continuation, rather than a departure, from DoL. If anything is different I’d probably point to the slightly more diverse vocals which also use death growls and pained shouts above mere shrieks. Nonetheless, it’s relatively straight-forward melodic black metal. Such simplicity requires that the melodies are nailed given the lack of other elements.
At a glance, it appears that they are. The introductory riffs on most tracks are uniformly strong and have an immediate impact. However, they’ve usually degraded through simple repetition; the opening minute rarely develops beyond those riffs and it’s typical for the songs to return to them further along in their durations. A clear preference for a particular type of chord progression is evident here too. The ‘chorus’ on “Snakes & Vultures” has a nifty lick, and one that I also hear after 1:20 on the title track and on the back half of “Mirrors.” This repetition is especially troubling as CoaDS is only a sophomore release but it demonstrates a surprising lack of ideas. Moreover, while most riffs are decent – even good – they lack the greatness of DoL. Competence is achieved here and while that’s fine for some, it’s a significant step down compared Uada‘s other material.
Much of DoL‘s appeal resides in its brevity. I noted in my review that the bookending tracks were the strongest which made immediately replaying the record a blast. Even if the middling three tracks were significantly weaker, which they weren’t, the listener was only ever seventeen minutes from veritable excellence. This is certainly not the case with CoaDS. It’s nearly an hour, up from 34 minutes previously, and is split over just seven tracks. I’m tiring by the conclusion to “Blood Sand Ash” but the record’s longest track lurks on the other side. “Black Autumn, White Spring,” the closer from DoL, was the sole track exceeding seven minutes but truly justified its length; its riffs tore shit up while the track evolved through its duration and concluded with a fittingly awesome, frenzied solo. On the other hand, the equivalent called “Mirrors” here carries an extra minute of weight with half of the ideas utilized on the former. Repetition hounds this record, from the shortest tracks, through the mid-album interlude and into the longer cuts.
I have relentlessly compared this album to DoL but a band should absolutely be held up against their own standards. My MP3 player automatically proceeds on to Uada‘s debut at the conclusion of CoaDS which has done it no favors given its exceptional quality. I am immediately more engaged and this transition clarifies that the benchmark is not met. That said, my 2.5 reflects that it really is not a bad album; “Snakes & Vultures,” “Blood Sand Ash” and “Sphere (Imprisonment)” are definitely worth hearing if you’re a black metal aficionado. It’s simply disappointing next to what has historically been achieved. I yet maintain hope that a sequel will reignite my passion.