I must confess a deep love for Usnea at this point; all of their previous work thus far has been stunning, (check out Random Cosmic Violence and their split with Ruins as just a couple of examples. It’s also no surprise that they made it onto my best of 2014 end of year list).
So why do I rate this band so highly? Well, they basically have everything any fan of colossal, extreme doom could want. This is heavy, nasty doom, with elements of funeral doom, black metal, and hideous sludge all sewn up into one gloriously oppressive package.
The songs on Portals into Futility are as good as any that the band have penned so far, possibly even their best, although only time will tell for sure. They slot into the band’s already impressive discography with ease though, showing a slow development and progression over the years. This is a subtle evolution that sees all of the band’s work similar in style and tone, but with each new release simply refining and honing their songwriting skill and delivery.
From the moment this album starts until its bleak, nihilistic end, you’re completely absorbed in the world of Usnea. One of the reasons they’re so utterly compelling is how rich and textured the music manages to be, despite how sparse and minimalist it actually is sometimes. This is achieved through a combination of riff mastery and melodic know-how that sees the band add just the right amount of colour and shading to their black, dark assault.
It’s not all crushing intensity either, as the band have no small amount of skill in the progressive and post-metal arenas. Like everything else here, this is employed to add further layers of depth to the songs, adding lighter and reflective sections and elements to the music, before the huge monolithic guitars and daemonic vocals descend to purge everything with distorted bliss once more.
The cleaner parts of the songs, and the clean vocals that are used sparingly, are essentially there to make the heavier parts seem heavier and even more despondent, but this shouldn’t minimise their impact in their own right. Portals into Infinity probably demonstrates more than any of the band’s other releases what a well-rounded and capable outfit Usnea truly are.
Parts of this release are truly devoted to repetitive drone, birthing hypnotic rhythms and mesmerising riffs that suck you in and spit you out. This, I feel, will probably be the largest part of Usnea’s sound that might put some people off. It’s a shame, as these are some of the qualities I enjoy most in this type of music. Regardless, if you’re into extreme doom, then for my money Usnea are one of the best in the business at the moment.
Think of the slow, intense delivery of Burning Witch, add some underplayed melody, add some funeral doom, filthy sludge, and harrowing drone, add a sprinkling of blackened corruption, and then unleash on the universe with the force and density of a neutron star, and you’ll have an idea of the timeless appeal of Usnea’s world-shattering doom.