Record Label: Eisenwald
Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right – Stuck in the Middle with UADA
Portland’s Uada haven’t always had the best press. They were smeared by Antifa for ‘Nazi affiliations’ after the 2016 Messe Des Morts debacle and are regularly denounced as ‘soyboys’ by more conservative listeners. Mgła comparisons have practically become a meme, and their art compromising performance in Mexico caused a ludicrous backlash when all they did was gripe about being clammy in their shrouds. Now they find themselves in a new ‘controversy’, with the lyric video for No Place Here daring to convey what appears to be an anti-woke sentiment (gasp). Still, such nonsense detracts from the reality that Uada are one of the genre’s big hitters, and on this album they finally define their sound, heading further down melody lane to crash land in a swamp of American Blues and Metal heritage. A thread of Hebrew mythology adds a tinge of displaced spirituality, and mastermind Jake Superchi attempts to pin down the concept under the broad umbrella of ‘Possession…in all forms: physical, metaphysical, spiritual, mental, societal, existential’ (www.grimgent.com). Thanks Jake.
As title track Djinn tap dances into the fray, you’d be forgiven for expecting Dexter Holland’s vocals to come screeching in at the verse, as upbeat drums clack atop roving bass and radio-friendly leads. Indeed, I’m relieved when a post-metal haze blasts in amidst a tangle of unsettling bends and bell taps. Superchi’s vocals are stunning from the get-go, a monologue of whispers and howls. An atmospheric reprise drips reverb, before dropping us neck-deep into the first of many land cracking solos. NWOBHM comparisons have been made, and it’s hard not to hear Maiden in the melodies, but for me, that misses the point. Despite the Middle Eastern theme, Uada are planting their flag so hard in the American landscape that they pierce its brittle heart. What bleeds out is pure Americana – Hendrix, Tarantino, the desert and the open road – a fractious dream lamenting its final hour. The Great Mirage opens with another dusty melody and turns down the energy. Troglodytic vocals rake the gravel, leads ebb and lull and short blast sections lurk at the periphery, allowing the band to demonstrate their range across a tapestry of timeless doom. It’s a little dirgy at times, but anything would struggle to shine between the opener and what’s to come.
No Place Here is the first of two megalith tracks that provide the a-frame for this star-spangled pavilion. An atmospheric blast section sinks into a gloomy quagmire before the vocals drop and the whole thing leaps like a rattlesnake, hissing through vistas of blues and fury with monastic backing vocals adding a hint of 80s goth. Sublime. There’s a heavy dose of melancholy before we reach the ‘offending’ section. After nine minutes, the dulcet tones of Vincent Price mourn the death of God before a lengthy spoken-word piece alludes to his equally authoritarian replacement. Angry Metal Guy dismisses it as ‘cringe-worthy diatribe’ and, indeed, the merest whiff of spoken word would normally send me diving for a window, but given the toxic cultural landscape in America, I feel this section nudges poignancy:
There is no knowledge of the inhumanity once withstood, that could cease those from weaponizing their own victimhood/ Where logic holds no validity over emotion, it is the taste of entitlement that detracts the relevance of their devotion.
Not quite poetry, but this is Black Metal not Saul Williams, and as Portland continues to burn night after night, Superchi is entitled to his opinion and conveys it with dignity. As I write, the band have released a Facebook statement inviting listeners to re-visit the lyrics with ‘fresh eyes.’ My take – if it ruffles your feathers, it probably should.
In the Absence of Matter is a personal favourite. Bone-rattling blasts rip like a rollercoaster, and there’s plenty of Post-Black atmosphere to reinforce the Bauhaus-theatrical vocals and cosmo-mythological lyrics: Eater of stars, protrude your wings/ Like infernal parched tongues/ Of the opaque and perdu kings, ‘Perdu’ (lost) nabbing the prize for the most pretentious adjective, 2020. There’s a lazy lick of bluegrass between the blasts, but once again it’s the triumphant melody that takes the cake. Forestless sits more comfortably in the atmospheric Cascadian tradition, admonishing the powers-that-be for the forest fire catastrophes. It chimes in with cosmic twiddles before treacly bass meanders through the charred roots and it all erupts in a searing blaze before the golden tones of a sitar come jangling the fray. A brief lash of punk shakes it up again, before (yet another) bluesy melody.
This leads us to the final track and second megalith of the album. Between Two Worlds opens on an ice-tray of percussion; pulsing toms give a nod to the Middle East, before another (another!) glorious melody swoops above a cloudscape of clean guitars, plunging like Icarus into a sludgy mid-section. It’s an unwieldy beast, tossing and turning, creeping and crawling before a November Rain string bend announces a climactic solo that Slash himself would stick on a mantelpiece. It all fades, and for reasons unbeknownst, they end this absolute gem with the scraping gasp of Darth Vader choking on something unholy.
Is it good? Blisteringly so. Is it perfect? Not quite. Fans of the genre in its rawest form will find the upbeat sheen even more indigestible than the band’s previous offerings, and whilst no track comes close to being filler, the longest ones feel a little baggy– and this on a 6-track album, no less. There’s also the thematic dissonance – whilst Kabbalah is a refreshing mythology to explore, it doesn’t sit so snugly with the American fervor. That said, when it’s good it’s incredible – an ambitious release that marks a definitive moment in the ascending USBM trajectory.
And it sounds nothing like MGLA.
UADA – Djinn (Official Full Album)