On the face of it, Abyss Between The Stars (Blood Music) appears like another run-of-the-mill Stoner/Doom record. From its artwork to its song titles, everything about the album appears to be layered in a thick, hazy doom-weed aesthetic which I’ve never been the biggest fan of. Sleep aside; I prefer my Doom to be rooted in abject misery and despair rather than fantasy, ideally horrid and cavernous like Primitive Man or utterly heartbreaking like Warning. However, on listening to URSA’s debut instead of a clichéd trudge through the mire, I was treated to an earnest, epic, and genuinely fun Heavy Metal trip.
With three original members of the criminally underrated Cormorant, technical proficiency was never going to be an issue with URSA, what with Cormorant being one of the most progressive and forward-thinking Black Metal bands the US has given us in the last fifteen years. Their approach to song structures follows that same progressive thinking, rarely content to stick to one riff or vocal hook per track like a lot of your typical Doom vendors.
A problem with a lot of ‘fantasy’ themed albums, and indeed the genre as a whole, is that it often falls repeatedly into cliché. So yes, song titles like ‘Wizard’s Path’ and ‘Dragon Beard’ are the biggest offenders, but what URSA do excel at is making their tale of ‘epic’ fantasy actually feel ‘epic’. Nick Cohon’s solos soar and Matt Solis’s vocals have this almost heroic trad-metal gusto behind them. Touches of country flair also add some sweet, almost mournful, emotion to tracks like ‘The Mountain’, boasting the naturistic richness of Baroness and the heartfelt crooning of Pallbearer.
Half of the tracks on this six-song journey were originally part of a one-night studio recording session back in 2016 titled The Yerba Buena Sessions. Obviously, the production is certainly more crisp this time around, the band’s need to record live together (another trait they carried over from Cormorant) is retained and just adds that little bit more to the “3 friends jamming noisy rock music together” attitude that makes the project so endearing. There’s a rich earthiness to this record’s production thanks to Tim Green, whose work with Wolves In The Throne Room and Earthless should give you an idea of the kind of intensity and psychedelia each song has. The band’s previous jam session was, of course, rough around the edges, but real care and attention has been given this time around to make Abyss Between The Stars feel every bit as grandiose and majestic that a title like that deserves.