Back in the eighties, when I was too young and stupid to understand the immense damage I was doing to my nervous system , I learned how to manage what can only be called a “bad trip.” There were times when the drug I took, again stupidly, was more powerful than my central nervous system could withstand, short-circuiting all sorts of brain regions to the point of losing contact with reality. These bad trips would come on like an ominous nightmare, and there would always be a healthy dose of fear in me as I prepared to face something completely outside of my mental control. The really fucked up thing is, once I managed a bad trip, it became a fantastic experience, to the point that I wanted to do it again. And again. And again…
No one in their right mind would voluntarily go on a bad trip. But once you cross a certain line, it’s only natural to keep crossing it in an attempt to establish dominance over the experience. Again, that was a totally fucked up thing to do, and it took my neural networks years, if not decades, to untangle the burned-out wires.
I bring this up because that is exactly the kind of experience that Ufomammut presents with most of their albums. It honestly pisses me off when I read a reviewer referred to something as “lysergic”, as if the psychedelic experience can only be obtained with drugs. Besides, most of that music – some of it quite good – is nothing more than a throwback to 70 styles that never became all that popular to begin with. Old Blood comes to mind is a band like that. Good, even great band. Lysergic? Not even close.
Ufomammut is something else entirely. Their latest opus, “8”, is as grueling and taxing as anything else in their catalog. The opening track Babel doesn’t waste any time with an atmospheric opening: it goes straight into overdrive after a couple opening seconds of feedback. Within 20 seconds, I doubted my commitment to surrender my consciousness for what was destined to be an onslaught unlike anything in recent memory: just like I used to feel hesitation after downing a heavy psychoactive. It was indeed a pretty painful opening, especially with my Sennheiser HD – 800S headphones. These cans were not designed for simple casual use, anymore than a sugar cube of pure acid is meant for a cocktail party. They have the ability to shed sonic light on every nook and cranny of a recording, and as such heightened the experience, which didn’t need anything in the way of embellishment.
But the thing about bad trips is, once you resign yourself to the inevitability of the journey, it can become quite enjoyable and fascinating. Again, Ufomammut delivers in spades. I cannot rightly declare that this is their “best album ever”, or even their “best album in years.” Ufomammut doesn’t work that way, at least not with me. They are epic works of art that take more than 10 or 12 listens to fully grok what’s going on, and “8” is no different. I can state, rather confidently, that it is their most primal, rock oriented album ever. Urlo and Vita maintain an almost stoner-like groove for most of the album, while Poia’s guitars are more aggressive, more layered, and more omnipresent than ever. Interestingly, the keyboards take center stage during much of the recording. I have no idea how in the world they’re going to pull this off live unless they use prerecorded synth tracks, or hire on a full-time synth meister.
I’m far from the only person that will issue the following warning: Ufomammut is not for the faint of heart. Nor are they for people with short attention spans. While the average length of each song is shorter than their other work, the entire album is one continuous track. If you choose to take this particular journey, be prepared for the beauty of horror to be revealed. Unlike a bad trip, you can always take the headphones off, turn the volume down, or put on another disk if you can handle it. I’m not being hyperbolic – very few people I know are willing, let alone capable, of embracing bands like Ufomammut in their entirety.
At the end of the day, that could be one of the reasons I love them so much. By the way, if the FDA or Congress get a hold of this album, I am fully prepared for them to be listed as a Schedule 1 drug. That just seems to be how American culture goes these days: anything this adventuresome, daring, and unique has just got to be banned for the general good and welfare of us all.
Last Friday was a great day for this clean and sober stoner. Not only did I have new Ufomammut to explore, but completely unexpectedly, Spaceslug released an EP titled “Mountains and Reminiscence.” Consisting of tracks left over from “Time Travel Dilemma” and other material, it feels more like a purposely recorded album than a bunch of outtakes. Also, considering the running length is about on par with Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality”, to me it’s much more a throwback to the early seventies and how bands like Sabbath released albums. In fact, it being the second “album” of 2017, Spaceslug is very much following the early productivity of the founders of all things metal.
Like Ufomammut, Spaceslug is a psychedelic/psychoactive experience that takes the mind and imagination to another dimension. Unlike Ufomammut, Spaceslug conducts its trip with seductive, haunting guitar work and a groove-laden rhythm section. The Polish accents of the band (they all sing, by the way) serve to add to the excitement and innocence of a band totally obsessed with space travel, ostensibly with with an intelligent slug being the protagonist. There is nothing horrifying, unpleasant, or jarring about the trip they take. Spaceslug is the ultimate heavy psych jam band, and if you never heard the mighty Slug, do yourself a favor and go to Bandcamp right now and just download the whole catalog.
I don’t think I can name one band in the past 50 years that has maintained such a high level of continuity between three releases. It’s not that they all sound like the same album, or that the band is just recycling a formula. Instead, Spaceslug seems to have a definite sense of who they are and where they want to take us, and they masterfully produce their music with a singular sense of drive and intensity.
It’s not that I think “Mountains and Reminiscence” is the equal, or even better, than Ufomammut. Ufomammut is technically superior in just about every way, from variety of rhythm to the complexity of their arrangements. While “Mountains and Reminiscence” will definitely not be my album of the year, it very easily could be my favorite album. It’s that damn good!
The best thing about both albums: no drugs are required to obtain maximum effect. But headphones do help…