Portland’s Usnea is not one of your proto-typical Doom bands, and there is so much more on offer than just down-tuned, droning noise, so coming to their new record, Portals Into Futility (Relapse) with an open mind is an absolute requirement as not only will it writhe and wrap itself around your very being, it will also frustrate and at times make you long for the next song.
Opening track ‘Eidolons And The Increate’ is a solid start, a song full of dynamics including a very eerie and atmospheric intro led by a chanting choir of voices. This all morphs and twists into a more fuzzier bass led section. The song perfectly shows off the band’s unique way of painting a story with their songs – there is always an ebb and flow to everything they write, a constant push and pull that only makes things that much more interesting compared to other doom bands.
The production is, all around, outstanding and adds so much to the overall experience you get with the album. It does a great job of balancing everything that Usnea throw at you and there is a seamless blend between the doom riffs that pulverise your skull and the, at times, stunning clean sections.
On the flip side to all this, though, is the real negative point of the whole album and that is the meandering nature of some of the material. Take closing track ‘A Crown Of Desolation’ which clocks in at 19 minutes in length. There is just simply not enough going on to justify its length, and the dynamics are more or less lost due to each part of the song being that much longer and drawn out. There is, however, within this track the best clean section of the entire album, so again it is a battle for the listener to not get frustrated.
The real sweet spot for me is ‘Pyrrhic Victory’, a track where the atmosphere and the first class production come to the fore. This doesn’t rely on the out and out heaviness found elsewhere. Instead it almost acts like a palate cleanser to the heavier songs both aiding itself and the songs that have come before it.
Usnea is no doubt a talented band and is definitely onto something here and I can see massive potential if they take steps to cut some of the fat from some of their songs. There is a really, really outstanding EP to be found within this album, but its long-form state it doesn’t quite hold up.