Usnea’s doom unpleasantness served in muddy, heaping doses with ‘Random Cosmic Violence’

UsneaTerrible frustration, unending anger, things being complete bullshit seemingly all the time. Those are situations and moods we all face from time to time, and when it’s all three at once, existence seems like it’s the worst, something that’s a struggle to grasp and make even a slightest bit of sense out of.

Funeral doom is not a sub-genre that was born out of happiness, pleasantries, and comfort. It’s cold, dark, and abrasive, and sometimes it feels like a thing that’s weighing on you for a million years at a time. It’s also an excellent source of power when you’re feeling at your worst and can’t come to grips with daily frustrations, and a band such as Usnea could be just what you need when you need to spit the venom welled up inside of you. The Portland, Ore., doom band is oppressive, angry, and fierce in the best possible way, and their second release “Random Cosmic Violence” should reach way more ears via their alignment with Relapse. It’s a union that makes a lot of sense, and with the dreaded seasonal depression about to sink its teeth into many of us, this record could be the monster that helps pull us through the murk and hell.

Usnea coverAt four tracks and just under an hour long, this dreaded document is a fiery, harsh, and unpleasant experience, which I mean in a good way. The band–guitarist/vocalist Justin Cory, bassist/vocalist Joel Banishing, guitarist Johnny Lovingood, and drummer Zeke Optimo Rogers–reveal black personalities, strange ways of expressing their darkness, and torturous practices to make their weight felt. These songs are not for the faint of heart, the easily wounded, or those who want three minutes and a cloud of dust. You must commit, feel each thorn press into your skin, and do what you must to make sense of this cauldron of madness that’s not exactly excited to make its intentions clear.

“Lying in Ruin” is the first beating up, beginning with bizarre noises and cosmic weirdness that seems to be setting itself up for a volcanic trip through space. The doom floor eventually drops, as expected, and the vocals sound crazed and anguished, like they’re going to squish your bowels until death arrives. A sweeping atmosphere arrives, and the vocals slip into a chant, making the track feel ritualistic. There is a lot of back and forth, heaviness paving the way for calm and vice versa, and the final moments have the drums driving and static eroding everything. “Healing Through Death” mauls you for 14:20, beginning right away with banshee wails that might cause you to jump. The band heads into slow-driving gore, with deranged cries and menacing hell before it changes over to clean and spacey. As is the case with most of the songs on here, the track doesn’t stay in one place for long as it shifts toward slithering death, calculating punishment, and an ending that makes sure it gets in as many vicious blows as it can before it lets you go.

The title track runs 14:44, and it opens with rustic acoustic guitars and slow, moody melodies. There is singing that again feels chant-like, almost like they are detached from this plane of existence and staring deep into unknown realms. But just when you feel like you’re locked in a trance, the song ignites and hammers the hell out of you. The vocals are monstrous and the pace is sludgy, but then the tempo pushes ahead again and gets thrashy and ugly. New riffs emerge that freshen the scene but also keep draining the blood, and melodies that seem like they’re repeating on a loop give way to the same acoustics that started the track. “Detritus” is the longest cut yet at 15:47, and it has a chilling, doom-infested opening that signals death’s arrival with the ringing of bells. The track takes its time building up storm clouds, and you just know the other shoe is going to drop. Obviously it does, with solemn, mournful playing, psychotic wails that make you think the worst is finally at hand, and damaged melodies that sound as battered as you are. The song sounds like it epitomizing the end, with gazey guitars spilling in, the pace continually churning, and the track ever so slowly fading away.

Usnea won’t provide an adrenaline rush or something to help you crush beers, but it will feel just right when you’re at your lowest point and need something that feels even miserable than you are. “Random Cosmic Violence” is a perfect debut for their new label, where they should find plenty of people who need a horrifying doom fix. These guys will disgust and destroy you, and don’t be shocked if you find you’re enjoying every minute of it, even at your personal worst.

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