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UFOMammut - ORO: Opus Alter

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Artist: UFOMammut

Album: ORO: Opus Alter

Label: Neurot

Review date: Sep. 18, 2012

Italian power trio UFOMammut have done little to alter their approach in their 12 years of recording. It’s basically all entrancing gloom and fireworks. What’s changed is the progression towards longer and longer forms — they’re perfecting the tease. ORO:Opus Alter is made up of five tracks, and while there’s distinguishable differences between them, I get the feeling that it’s all part of one monster story that dates back back to this year’s companion album, even back to their previous album-length palindrome, Eve. They’ve discarded the notion of a song, but without giving up the notion of an album as a series of peaks and pauses.

These ORO tracks are long, but there’s no jamming. If riffs are the fundamental unit of heavy metal, UFOMammut’s riffs are rarely more complicated than "Smoke on the Water" or "Enter Sandman." By opting for the sturdy and simple, space is created for shifting the other fundamentals of their sound — wordless medieval chants, sampled voices buried deep in the noise, scrapes of electronics. The suspense depends on shocks of volume and contrasting fields of reverb. A subdued lick will repeat for minutes, making it impossible to sense when the landslide will come, even after a bunch of listens. They never bring things to a full stop. When a track empties out, there’s still an oscillating synth or phasing distortion that wards off complete silence, drifting with you to the next part of the saga.

The first album of this long workout, April’s ORO: Opus Primum, took its time building, led by a five-note motif that only hinted at power. With a single up-note in a descending scale, the motif had a way keeping a small light alive as the rest of the music sank deeper and deeper. This made Opus Primum the first UFOMammut record that didn’t include a city-burying riff.

Opus Alter torches a few towns. It’s striking that they’ve done this by making the riffs even simpler. The middle section, titled "Sulpherdew," starts as a choking one-chord exercise, an engine that refuses to turn over. When the ignition lights up, the halting sounds are transferred from the guitars to the drums, and the whole becomes orchestral, sheets of rain that shower over a “heave ho” chant. Ultimately, it tangles up like one of High on Fire’s viper riffs, but they bring it down slowly. The long closing movements of the album travel through similar sputters, lulling the mood just enough to stage sneak attacks.

The sections of ORO are turns utilitarian and incongruously beautiful. It’s almost a feat of engineering, like an oil pipeline with gilded spigots. Any isolated link of the pipes might seem ordinarily heavy, but the whole thing is transporting.

By Ben Donnelly

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