It really is a renaissance time for heavy, melodic experimental doom fans with The Exuviae Of Gods series from Mournful Congregation, the cathartic Katatonia-indebted Mother of Graves making significant waves and now the first album from Portland’s beloved Usnea in over half a decade. A band rooted in care-for-others and awareness of their place in the cosmos making some of the most expansive and also acerbic doom around? What’s not to love?
Recorded and Engineered by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios in Oakland, the album is the best sounding yet from this dishevelled crew of admirable true believers, a testament that blackened, funeral and atmospheric influences are not the property of the alt-right and are properly wielded to make society more equitable and loving.
Bathed In Light is worth the wait and is both a triumph for the activism-minded band and Translation Loss Records. From the mesmeric and huge cover art that comes back patch worthy right out of the gate, to the massive guitars and synth textures paired with demonic vocal gurgles and writhing cries, this feels like a deep dive into leapfrogging personal and parasocial hells and sticking the landing.
Did I also mention the drums on the title track sound like crumbling pillars?
To be real, this year I have been way more enticed by albums by open-minded anti-pop artists like Kesha or Fever Ray making transgressive statements against caste systems in society. It has felt more immediate and has been speaking to me more than regurgitated death metal tropes and stylistic back-slapping, of late. Usnea’s return is a thrill for me because while they tick off many metal boxes, they are rooted in the punk and alternative sense of boundary-pushing and immediacy that we sorely need to emphasize in the scene right now. It makes me want to fucking hug them.
‘The Compleated Sage’ explodes like a forgotten older Enslaved song filtered through North West seasonal depression, fucking outstanding. ‘To The Deathless’ feels like an ode to never giving up on your dreams and starts out with calming synth that could be a Zombi song with Nine Inch Nails interlude aspirations, before waves of the bleakest and most gorgeous doom on the album crash down like a Tsunami or like a body involuntarily shitting and losing all fluids as it dies in a flash of life before the dimming eyes. But the soul flies on.
‘From Soot And Pyre’ has some of the best vocal work on the album, from brutal death metal lows to Pallbearer-worthy melodic urging. As I write this, the band are preparing for a show with Conan and Thra in Portland tonight and just knowing that is happening is igniting my metal is in good hands chakras to a warm, hazy glow. Sometimes even the most fervent music genre addicts need to feel our faith rekindled amidst an endless torrent of things that dull our senses. Even as I believe in droid rights (when it comes to Star Wars characters), Bathed In Light is the essence of why AI art can never replicate the soul of human touch that stirs within the sociology behind real record making. The feel and heart in the beautiful and spare intro to ‘Premeditatio Malorum’ is a prime example.
‘Uncanny Valley’ ends things out with an anthemic, slow-build confidence. Fans of Red Sparowes or Earth will vibe to this one initially, as well as weird monkish lonely people. The song eventually erupts into something that almost sounds like Temple of Baal took Ayahuasca. The six songs on this album are also unafraid to expand and take their time to make a statement. While I love the explosion of minute long, regionally unique hardcore bands right now on the West Coast stealing the thunder of the same old red pilled boomer New York Haadcoaah goons, it also is nice to see an underground band like Usnea not simply writing the shortest shit possible for Spotify streams.
All in all, a really strong and satisfying return to stir the inner call to be authentic.
Buy the album here:
9 / 10
MORGAN Y. EVANS