Usnea – Portals into Futility (Relapse)

Wednesday, 20th September 2017
Rating: 7/10

The full tap into blackened sludge is getting down to its last drop. You know, when you start smacking the bottle (cue inanimate object) to try and squeeze whatever iota of liquid is left. That’s the idea here, with Portland’s Usnea clocking in as a band that operates without distinction, but does a fair job at shaking ‘yer foundation. Portals into Futility is the band’s third full-length and is the follow-up 2014’s similar Random Cosmic Violence. The swells of volume and un-godly heaviness remain intact. What is still missing are lead-weight songs to get these guys out of the volume tunnel and into something more workable.

The melodic touches that grace opener “Eidolons and the Increate” turn out to be a tease. As the guitar lines start to work their way into the song, it’s all too sudden before the crippling doom sets in. And that’s where Usnea stays, largely relying on spacious jams, half-tempos and guitar swells. The battling vocals of Justin Cory and Joel Williams (one does abyssal death grunts, the other could be fronting a hardcore band) end up spicing up the mix on “Lathe of Heaven,” while the tumultuous build-up that is featured toward the back-end of “Pyrrhic Victory” is a sonic crescendo of the highest order.

Usnea, like many of the bands they’re associated with, have the dubious task of deciding whether they want their actual sound display to do the talking or the songs. And given that the laborious compositions that make up Portals into Futility are just that: laborious, it’s a pick your poison scenario. Usnea remain unabashed defenders of sonic excess. They just need to actually bring songs to the table.

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