Doom smashers Usnea take sci-fi nightmare, apply to modern hell on violent ‘Portals Into Futility’

We are living in what could become a great era of escapism. Look around you. We’re living in a dark, most volatile time, while those who run the world are pretty much at their absolute worst. Or at least our country’s is. Every day, things seem to get more inexplicably stupid, and it seems it can’t be long until we’re all wondering how things go as bad as they did (that is if free thought is still a thing).

Portland, Ore., doom crushers Usnea aren’t exactly going to lift you out of your doldrums on their crushing third record “Portals Into Futility,” but you might be able to revel in the fact that we still have a chance to avoid the worst. The band sunk back into science-fiction dystopian stories, which all-too-frighteningly capture a lot of what’s going on today, and pour that into this 5-track, 56-minute monster. The songs are long, crushing, agonizing portraits that mix funeral doom, death metal, sludge, and many other elements into stories that dreamed of a time when humanity was at a crisis of being, something that might not be that far in our future. So, maybe it’s not as escapist as one might hope for, but you at least can get lost in the music and float in the thick waves that look at a way of life we don’t have to accept yet, as long as people stay awake and fight. That last part might not totally be in the band’s—guitarist/vocalist Justin Cory, bassist/vocalist Joel Williams, guitarist Johnny Lovingood, and drummer Zeke Rogers—motivations, but that’s certainly floating in the bloody water if anyone cares to reach out grab the last sliver of hope.

“Eidolons and the Increate” is the 11:57 opener, the second-longest song on the record, one that has a rain-smeared start. Droning singing collects before the song barrels open, and terrifying cries unleash punishment. The track stomps through mud, while deep growls rumble, the fires build to a rage, and the intensity floods over. The track later goes cold, feeling like a deathrock chill, while fog envelops the senses, warbled singing melts into shrieks, and the track has a crushing finish. “Lathe of Heaven” drubs for 9:45, though it begins in a heavy pocket of atmosphere that slowly gives way to panic. Melodies snake through the chaos, as gargantuan growls bring fury. Unhinged wails, including a cry of, “Nothing is certain!” pummel as anguish bleeds hard and noise spirals away.

“Demon Haunted World,” named after Carl Sagan’s book (at least I assume), is the shortest cut, as It’s bled into from the song prior, and noise begins to ache. Liquid melodies trickle into the madness, as energy spits, wheels spin in the mud, and the track absolutely gushes. Shrieks mix with growls, as moodiness blazes, and that violent blast packs the final minutes with fear. “Pyrrhic Victory” is like a stomping giant decimating villages with no mercy. The vocals are terrifying as usual, and even as the tempo plods along, it never fails to land devastating blows. Mournful melodies swim in tears before the bottom drops, the heaviness is crushing, and the soloing that ends the song torches the flesh. Closer “A Crown of Desolation” is the longest cut, stretching over 19:04, and doing so with trickling pianos and simmering sounds at first. Of course, the gates drop hard, and doom beasts roam the land, as the singing goes from growls and screeches to bellowing clean vocals, while the band lays waste. Later, some psychedelic colors are smeared into scene, as sadness forces you to take a deep drink, and emotional guitars cascade. The drums rattle and crush your teeth, the track heads into deeper waters, and darkness swallows everything whole.

Humanity might be heading right into the gears of a combine, and perhaps the music we hear on Usnea’s “Portals Into Futility” can help us prepare for that reality. For now, it’s a morbid look into a future dressed in hatred, fear, and death, something that is just in our imagination. For now, it’s a dose of escapism bordering on real life, a way of being we still have a chance to stop.

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