Ufomammut Return To Heavy Infinity On “Fenice” (Review)
Ufomammut’s music is defined by its universe-scale ambitions. The Italian ‘cosmic doom’ trio traverse infinity atop enormous, groove-leaden riffs that expand and contract, encountering colorful bursts of nebulae in between long stretches of empty, majestic space. Analog synth interjections crackle and oscillate like communications from distant civilizations. Effect-smothered vocals cry out from within the ether - god-like commands beckoning the travelers towards the heart of a distant sun.
This thrilling approach falls somewhere between doom metal and kosmische musik, channeling the former’s pummeling weight and the latter’s wondrous majesty. At their best, Ufomammut are capable of tapping into something truly grand and awe-inspiring. Their 2010 album Eve, a single track split into five movements across 45-minutes, is a stunning example of the band’s abilities, up there with their debut Godlike Snake as transcendent highpoints in the trio’s now two decades-long career.
Fenice, Ufomammut’s twelfth album, takes things somewhat back to basics. The title, which is Italian for Phoenix, symbolizes this attempt to forge a new beginning. In the album’s press release, bassist and vocalist Urlo explains that “I think we lost our spontaneity, album after album. With Fenice, we were ready to start from zero, we had no past anymore.” It’s undeniably true that Ufomammut’s more recent albums have gradually moved away from the restrained, groove-based meditations of their early work. Their body of work has increasingly featured more complex and lengthy compositions, more stop-offs and detours on the voyage to the center of the cosmos.
Fenice successfully sets Ufomammut back on course. These six tracks comprise the shortest studio album of the band’s career, a 38-minute runtime that paradoxically sees the tracks given more time and space to operate according to the band’s own signature language. Album highlight “Pyramind” ascends from viscous, riff-driven heights to a cool, expansive landscape, one that allows the trio to breathe and take stock of their surroundings. The murky heaviness eventually returns, however the band never seem to be rushing or getting ahead of themselves. Instead, they allow the tracks to guide their hand instead of them unfolding the other way around.
This mode of intuitive simplicity perfectly suits Ufomammut. It’s not like their recent work had wholly abandoned this style, however the band’s signature exploratory jam feel was gradually eroding in favor of more deliberate structures and moods. Fenice brings back this earlier mode, an effortless return defined by its sheer simplicity. For music that’s so profoundly cosmic and enormous in scope, Ufomammut’s music hits its greatest heights when it pares things down and meditates on simple motifs, exploring the space that the three members conjure up so elegantly. On Fenice, this is epitomized by the captivating centerpiece “Psychostasia”. An intensely linear work, “Psychostasia” gradually gains momentum, investigating every inch of space around its central riff, before blasting off into a closing stretch of searing heaviness.
When firing on all cylinders, Ufomammut’s command of structure borders on the impossible, as if their explorations have taken them too near a dying star, warping the laws of music. As “Psychostasia” shows, they can transform an idea or motif into something wholly new without ever revealing the machinations behind the change. The aptly-titled “Metamorphoenix” plays similarly fast and loose with our understandings of song craft, moving from a dense, synthetic opening to something more spacious and organic. The fluidity between these movements is free of any awkward jumps or interruptions, relying instead on the band’s strong grasp of patience and pathos.
Ufomammut’s journey across the universe appears to have taken them full circle, as if the whole cosmos was a sphere and has led them back to where they started. The back-to-basics approach reaps endless rewards, primarily by focusing on what the band does best. For others this would signify a sideways step, but for Ufomammut, whose sound and aesthetic is so singular, it’s a cleansing return to the center of their musical universe. From here on in, hopefully their cosmic explorations can maintain this level of clarity and purpose.