Funeral Doom Friday: USNEA's Dark and Fantastic Portals Into Futility
Finally, the weekend is upon us. What better way to kick it off than with the latest installment of "Funeral Doom Friday". For those who are new to this column; each week features a new or classic album from the realm of extreme doom. Much of funeral/death doom's might comes from an oppressive emotional weight and the use of death or black metal motifs (played at a trudging pace, of course.) Pioneers like Mournful Congregation, Evoken, and Esoteric have mastered this blend of dirge and destruction. For 25 years, they have methodically built compositions that stretch for dozens of minutes all while keeping fans enthralled. Time has elapsed since the days of Thergothon and much like the world around us, the genre has evolved. Today's modern bands contort the very construct of the genre, breeding darkly refreshing new work. Their work thankfully gives this column plenty of material to share.
Funeral Doom Friday will be hanging around Oregon again for another weekend. Portland's Usnea has returned this week with a brand new and deeply intellectual take on extreme doom. Portals Into Futility is the third studio record from the Oregonian quartet. It follows up Random Cosmic Violence which retrospectively featured here last year. Portals, however, pivots away from its predecessor's formula. Instead, Usnea opts to explore further into more discordant tropes of genres like death and black metal.
In addition to these added style explorations; what makes Portals Into Futility unique is its accompanying reading list. The titles of two songs mirror books written by Ursula K. Le Guin ("Lathe of Heaven") and Carl Sagan ("Demon Haunted World"). The other four books: Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Valis by Philip K. Dick, and Dune by Frank Herbert. The reading list, accompanied by an expanded arsenal of metal styling, shakes up the common assertations of funeral doom. Usnea forgoes typical lyrical themes, alternatively tackling science fiction and certain facets of society and politics.
All things considered for a wildly tense and imposing record; Portals Into Futility is a refreshing breath of air for extreme doom. An album that breaks away from traditional norms and successfully tinkers with the very construct of a genre certainly deserves its praise. The opening track, "Eidolons and the Increate", and "Pyrrhic Victory" exemplify this alternate course taken by the band. Choral vocals and unsettling atmosphere hallmark these two tracks. The former, a collection of male voices opens not simply the track but the entire album. The latter is met with haunting ambiance bookended by furious instrumentation. Each song on Portals Into Futility is as heavy and imposing as the last, culminating in the 19-minute epic "A Crown of Desolation".
Usnea's third full-length album is out now as of today. Buy Portals Into Futility from Relapse Records on vinyl, CD, and other bundle options. The album premiered on Noisey yesterday and can also be found below. Follow Usnea on Facebook as well.