Stoner doom seems such an easy genre to play. Write every kickass riff you can think of, play them slow and heavy, and you’re most of the way there. Yet many struggle with the cyclopean task of keeping their bundle of riffs interesting for 45 (or 75) minutes. Ufomammut is not one of them, however. Their gargantuan space-doom, less dense than Yob but with more gravity than Electric Wizard, has slowly but surely clawed its way to the pinnacle of the subgenre, culminating in the highly regarded Ecate two years ago. Now the mammoths from space are unleashing their cosmic stomp on the world once again with 8. Can they maintain their place at the top of the mountain?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: hell, yes. 8 is a massive and expertly crafted grinding stone, a pounding and hypnotizing journey through cosmic atmospheres that crushes with the force of a black hole but doesn’t relinquish groove in the process. When lesser peers in the genre trip up, the causes are nearly universal: an over-reliance on repetition with riffs that don’t stand up to such overuse. Ufomammut avoid such pitfalls with graceful songwriting that lets the music breathe. Instead of non-stop grinding and crushing, heaviness is regularly traded for spaced-out synthesizer trips or screeching, feedback-laden solos, with the vocals occupying a seat in the back, a drowning man shouting his last words at the sky from an ocean away. When the band means to crush, they take it literally, making full use of a bulldozing downtuned guitar filled with deliciously filthy distortion.
There are few flaws to the album, and most will come down to personal taste. The occasional riff or pattern will feel over-repeated, like the shamanic vocal patterns during the last few minutes of closer “Psyrcle,” or the cyclical drums on the tail of “Zodiac,” and the way the songs are strung together makes the flow of the album a bit difficult to discern. But personally, I like the way 8 sweeps you up and doesn’t put you down for over half the album (the first song with a discernible ending is “Core.”) The weaker moments, on the other hand, to me resemble merely breaths before the storms of furious rhinos the songs unleash on a regular basis, like the spazzing-out of “Prismaze” and the industrial urgency of “Core.”
One of the biggest issues facing most doom, stoner, and sludge is the production. Loudness does not equal heaviness, but in search of that massive wall of music, many find themselves bricked to hell and back, blowing up eardrums and causing more fatigue than a masturbation marathon1. Fear not! Ufomammut is turning the tide with an excellent production. It’s both heavy and dynamic, and allows (nay, demands!) for 8 to be spun at high volume. This is perfect evidence of how a loud master means you have to turn the music down and vice versa. The various instruments are separated and layered expertly, and even when a lot is going on at the same time (like the early solo on “Zodiac,” where bass, rhythm, and guitar do battle with the drums and shimmering keyboards), it never sounds like a mess or like anything gets lost, a special achievement considering it was recorded live in the studio. The conscious decision to keep the vocals relatively low in the mix might seem controversial for Mammut-newbies like me initially, but it was no different on Ecate and it fits their pulverizing style.
8 is a complete victory for Ufomammut. I was fairly new to the band, but it didn’t take long for the record to win me over. It avoids everything I fear when I pick up a stoner-doom album, yet embodies an archetype for the genre: heavy, crunching riffs, hypnotic patterns, bursts of galloping steamrollers, undulating keyboards and wavering vocals. The massive guitar sound and excellent production are the pitch black icing on the cosmic cake. This will go down as one of the major doom releases of the year, and deservedly so. Get on this, and when you do, promise me one thing: play it fucking loud!