I would like to apologize in advance for how utterly fawning and indulgent this review is going to be. But this band is really just that good.
Sometimes a band just knows how to name itself. Ufomammut derives its name from UFOs and the Italian word for mammoth. There isn’t really any better imagery to summon in description of Ufomammut’s music than something both immense and alien, a strange, lumbering beast with an immediately captivating power. With the release of ORO: Opus Alter, Ufomammut close out the two-part concept album opened by ORO: Opus Primum exploring mankind’s quest to gain control of the world through the power of knowledge. It’s heady stuff, explored mostly musically rather than belaboured through a novel of lyrics as happens on many concept albums, and it’s one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had with music.
It’s virtually impossible to review Opus Alter on its own and ignore Opus Primum, as they’re part of the same body of music and intended by the band to be taken is as one 90+ minute work. In truth, I found Opus Primum to be less satisfying than 2010’s Eve, my discovery of which is perhaps the highlight of my musical explorations over the last few years. I think this was partially due to it not being completely new to me in the way Eve was, but also because I knew it was the first of two parts I couldn’t help but feel it ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. Now that I can absorb ORO as a whole, the journey is complete, there is a conclusion, and I can sort out the experience in its entirety.
If you’re not familiar with Ufomammut, they play a psychedelic brand of doom metal, all mid-paced tempos and gargantuan, stomping riffs punctuated by spacey ambient droning, like a living ancient monolith on some distant forgotten world. Fitting with the concept of the album, just as we seek further knowledge by building on the work of those who came before us, ORO creates thematic foundations and builds up from them, growing and evolving organically throughout the record’s 93 minutes to create a cohesive, self-referential work constantly expanding while never fully pulling away from its base. The riffs are constantly reaching out, seeking to grow as if they must in order to survive. Like Darwinian evolution, with each iteration they change slightly, growing heavier, thicker, louder, or faster, until you look back and realize they are no longer what they were, but instead are the culmination of a process leading to a more complete and fully realized entity. The drums are the heart of the record, pulsing with life and desire and providing the rhythm that drives everything. The bass is hypnotic and foreboding, an ever-present primordial essence invoking fear in the classical sense, a feeling of stupefied, reverential awe. The vocals, distorted and distant, more chanted than sung, don’t feel like words, they feel like thoughts, like abstract notions made sound. Everything comes together flawlessly. This band is truly visionary, pulling the entire metal genre forward through sheer strength of will and creative insight.
ORO needs to be listened to as a whole, with Opus Primum leading directly into Opus Alter, and album that should be listened to with headphones and no distractions. We set aside time to watch movies or read books separate from other activities, and this is album is a declaration that music deserves that same attention. This is not to say that Opus Alter is not worth listening to separate from Opus Primum, or that any of Opus Alter’s five subdivided tracks don’t have the strength to stand on their own as songs. But like any great film, a single scene devoid of context only holds so much power, relying on what comes before and after it to carry its full meaning, its emotional weight. ORO is an album that defines the phrase “greater than the sum of its parts”, great as those parts may be. It possesses such strength and power that it amplifies the silence after it’s over to something more significant, a coda in which the experience of ORO settles and all that remains is a person slightly different than they were 93 minutes before. This is a monument to what music can be.