In this post, we’re premiering the title track to Random Cosmic Violence, the new album on Relapse Records by Usnea from Portland, Oregon. If you’re smart and/or impatient, you’ll scroll down and just listen to it. But I have some things to say about the album as a whole, and I will have my say.
Almost everything about the album is huge. The human skeletal structure is sturdy, but it wasn’t made for the utterly crushing force of this music. It’s enough to collapse bone like an accordion. And the parts that aren’t cataclysmic are mostly disturbing, except when they’re entrancing.
The music is kindling for metaphors, if you’re given to that sort of thing, which I am. The album was named for a line by Carl Sagan in his book The Demon Haunted World, a line that explains our existence and that of the cosmos itself. We and everything around us, out to the limits of the universe, are the products of violence on a titanic scale. The music imagines all that cold, careless, destructive vastness.
The album as a whole is desolate and devastating, an avalanche of multi-ton boulders in slow motion, with riffs that carve deep canyons of despair in a blasted post-apocalyptic wasteland and percussion that’s so pulverizing and so well-produced that you feel like your head is right inside the bass drum.
The songs ratchet the tension to the breaking point, and when the point breaks, everything breaks, smashed into atoms. It’s uncomfortable music, saturated with dread, all hope suffocated in the cradle. When the heat comes, it’s the warmth of plague victims burning in a great pyre. (I did warn you about the metaphors.)
The album consists of four songs, ranging from more than 12 minutes to more than 15. Inevitably, they make use of repeating motifs, both melodic and rhythmic — the reappearing tribal drum beats are one of the album’s most memorable features — but the repetition becomes transfixing. And perhaps what really vaults the album high above the average, apart from Usnea’s knack for generating titanic power and morbid, minor-key melodies, is the band’s skill in creating dynamic changes and salting this heartless sonic landscape with ingenious touches, which come like breaths of air in an atmosphere that’s being rapidly sucked into space, or poisoned with the smoke of burning tires in an urban dead zone.
Small touches, like skittering electronic noises and the low ambient chill of cold winds blowing. Small touches, like isolated, reverberating guitar notes, both acoustic and electric. Small touches, like well-placed layered guitar harmonies; intense, penetrating tremolo runs; and the surprising eruption of squalling, blasting violence in the title track we’re premiering today — which isn’t all what you’re expecting in a work of monolithic funeral doom (and nothing that comes beforehand prepares you for it — unless you reflect on the name of the album, and this song).
I usually try to avoid mentioning the names of other bands when writing a review, out of a perhaps misplaced desire to avoid the suggestion that the music is derivative of bands who may or may not be influences. But here I’ll succumb and say that Usnea’s sound on this album is something like an alchemical amalgam of Asunder, Neurosis, and YOB, with a dash of Eyehategod. Vocally, the recordings switch off between shrieking that sounds like a cross-breeding of Scott Kelly and Mike Williams, except with even less chance of avoiding long-term larynx damage, and utterly gargantuan. convincingly cavernous growls.
YOB really came to mind in the album’s last song, “Detritus”. It’s my favorite track on the album, even though it’s not the one we’re premiering. But hey, now you have something more to look forward to, right? All the songs qualify for that well-worn adjective “immersive”, but “Detritrus” is powerfully addictive. It pulls you waaaay out on a black, heaving sea, and you really won’t care if you ever see land again. For an album that, overall, is staggeringly desolate, it’s full of moments that will catch in your head and beckon you back, and I guess this song has a few more of them than the others. As long as the song is, I can’t get enough of it — and that’s also true of the album as a whole.
I don’t think I’ve heard the name Jared “Fester” See before, despite the fact that he’s recorded other bands like Stoneburner, Rabbits, and Nux Vomica at Haywire Studios, but that dude deserves a big round of applause for the amazing job he did recording and mixing this immense album. It was mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege (YOB, High On Fire, Integrity), and the album’s artwork and design were created by Justin Cory and Orion Landau.
Random Cosmic Violence is set for release on CD, digital, and both colored/limited and standard black 2xLP on November 7th in Germany/Benelux/Finland and November 10th in North America and the rest of the world.
Below, immerse yourself in “Random Cosmic Violence” (and if you missed the earlier premiere of “Healing Through Death”, I’ve included a stream of that song, too).