(Arizona doom/sludge quartet UGLY will release their new album Autograph via Satanik Royalty Records on May 5th, and below you’ll find Wil Cifer‘s review.)
Since the ’90s sludge has branched out from crust punk to meld the apocalyptic rumblings passed down from bands like Swans and Killing Joke. This band from Arizona carries all the foreboding of the genre’s forefathers in their sound. They know the value of atmosphere as a tool to empower the aggression of their riffs. The guitars chug with crushing vitriol. One of this album’s strengths is the use of samples to set the mood, in a manner we have not heard since the glory days of Neurosis.
The vocals of the first song are an exercise in raw larynx-scraping They are recorded in a very dry fashion with scant use of effects. Just a crazed man screaming into a mic.
This crazed man is not alone. He is joined by Krysta Curry from Landmine Marathon, who not only shares vocal duties but also helps out with synths, samples, and additional percussion, though her vocal presence is not really felt ’til the second song, which finds an odd syncopation embracing a weird, more grandiose arrangement.
Photo by Lanny Webbin
The clash of their instruments bashes out a more dissonant and angular assault on “Challenging Ego / Challenging Pride ”. At this point in the album they have made it clear they throw the rules out the window and create from a confrontational place that makes no effort to play it safe. This pays off, as it is not like any sludge album I have heard recently.
Even with the intense experimentation employed, they know they are a metal band. This is not something they feel the need to apologize for. They display their talent for writing riffs with the teeth of an alpha predator on “In My Pocket ”. Here the guitar finds its groove, as it pushes through the forest of grim samples surrounding it. They explode out from this with all the anger of a hardcore band.
Even at their most angry they do not get carried away and forget that they are writing songs. I am drawn to this strain of metal because it feeds heads rather than trying to distract you from the fact the songs are bookends for guitar solos. Lyrically this band is not pretending to be occultists, but looking at the way they self-sabotage themselves. Which real talk I will take over Instagram Satanists or uninformed raging against the machine of the day.
They close the album with the almost fourteen-minute “Suckle ”. The first three minutes of droning noise could have been scaled back and their point still could have been made, but it’s like preheating the oven; it all depends how hungry you are while you wait. Sprawling songs have become a staple of the genre to some extent, and they certainly are not making music for Tik Tok, so it’s not a deal breaker for me. Nor is it something that occurs with each song.
There is a teeth gnashing that infects every instrument they assault you with here. The tribal drums the song ends with might be the album’s most Neurosis-like moment. But Neurosis has ceased to be, so another band needed to step up and scratch that itch. This is a band that travels in similar sonic realms as the bands who influenced them, but takes the familiarity of those aural colors and makes them their own in a beautifully dark and unsettling fashion.
Fans of forward-thinking sludge, not just heavy for the sake of being heavy, should check this album out, as its wonders await you.