The thing about Ufomammut is that they don’t know how to make a bad album. Unlike a lot of their peers in the jammier, psychedelic end of heavy metal, Ufomammut tends not to let songs ramble out aimlessly into eternity, and while production tricks and segues between tracks is the norm for the group, 20+ meandering epics aren’t (at least not for the past decade). They organize their songs around riffs and not choruses, and the length of a track seems to be determined by the length of time they can play a riff and still have something left to say about it. As a result, Ufomammut albums tend to feel much more eventful than many of their peers, even at their worst.
This presents a problem, however, and one that’s felt on 8. After so many albums structured in this manner, things begin to feel the same. Without a wildly different aesthetic element, like a totally new focal instrument or vocal texture or instrumental palette for the rhythm section, the records begin to lose shape. This is partly why bands such as Weedeater, Electric Wizard and Conan commit themselves to vocal arrangements even when their music often doesn’t foreground the voice. Though we go to bands like that for the neutron star gravity of the heaviest of heavy riffs, the voice becomes enough of a textural disjoint that we remain interested; at times, the voice rises above the unholy cacophony of their hymns to substance abuse and Satan that it becomes the center.
The riffing on 8 remains fuzzed out, heavy, and groove-filled; the relative brevity of the album, hovering at a fairly taut 50-ish minutes, keeps Ufomammut from overstaying their welcome. It rolls along capably enough, and by sticking to shorter tracks, they force themselves to innovate at a rate that keeps the album from getting boring. It would be hard to imagine someone who loved groove-oriented psychedelic heavy metal having a bad time with this record. The players are too competent and their arrangements are too fat-free to upset anyone who wants something like this.
The issue, then, is that while it’s nearly impossible to think of a major fault of the record, it’s also hard to think of anything necessarily transcendent. The greatest attribute of this record, easily, is the greater incorporation of synthesizer, which juxtaposes against the singular guitar/bass tone employed throughout the whole of the record nicely. Often, it is only the rhythm and the synth that will change; as the timer creeps on, the timbral shifts occurring in the synthesizer become more and more the most pleasurable. On tracks such as “Fatum” and “Core,” heavily effects-treated vocals show up briefly; they pass in a flash and raise the question of why Ufomammut doesn’t use vocals more often. Their instrumental prowess is not in doubt, and the broken-machine synthesizer that closes out “Core” shows they can still write compelling instrumental moments. It comes down to variation or, more bluntly, a lack of it.
This is the most frustrating element of this record but also this band. The album possesses numerous moments that, taken out of context, would imply a thrilling psychedelic heavy metal record. But in context, the lack of variation robs each of power, ironically making songs work better when disjointed from their typical album flow. In a live setting, these tunes almost certainly gain a new life; perhaps next to the speaker cabinets, the moments that feel frustratingly similar start breathing fire. On record, however, it reduces 8 to an undeniably competent and solid record, but ultimately not a transcendent one.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.