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Usnea Ask The Big Questions On “Pyrrhic Victory”

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The video for Usnea’s new song “Pyrrhic Victory” asks a question that it knows that it cannot answer: what good is societal progress if it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of human cruelty? If we are living at the end of history — to borrow a phrase from Francis Fukuyama — what do we have to show for it? The prospect of nuclear war and looming environmental collapse? Radical. Nice job, humanity.

Using found footage, Usnea place the image of a woman being hung next to a series of studies of the human brain. While “Pyrrhic Victory” isn’t a narrative, the implication is that no matter how much we advance, we have yet to find away to prevent human beings from inflicting pain on one another. Viciousness (and the suffering it causes) is so pervasive that any progress must be seen as a pyrrhic victory against the devils of our nature.

This is heavy shit, even for a band as sonically dense as Usnea. The Portland, Oregon-based doom act are no strangers to weighty themes, or equally weighty tones. Portals Into Futility, their upcoming record, is thick with both. Although it starts and ends with full force, the majority of “Pyrrhic Victory” is more subdued — and don’t mistake “subdued” for soft. The song’s lengthy bridge may not be as heavily distorted, but it’s no less suffocating. Using a mixture of guitar tones, including something that sounds like an E-Bow, and with the pace of a tank stuck in mud, Usnea turn the song into an impenetrable murk.

This might not scan as heavy in the traditional sense, too slow for a proper headbang and too drawn out for a raised pair of horns, but the psychological effect is the same as any traditional riff-fest. It is a sonic burden, one that leaves the listener unmoored from the song’s structure. When the band gives shape to the song’s conclusion, they still don’t offer easy catharsis. The song’s stuttering climax gradually folds over itself until the band’s instruments crumble into digital distortion. Is “Pyrrhic Victory” a difficult question left hanging, or an uncomfortable and pessimistic answer?

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Portals Into Futility comes out via Relapse Records on September 9th. Follow Usnea on Facebook here.

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