Remember when laser light shows were a thing? The local planetarium would feature albums, often Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, where people would sit back in darkness and do some deep listening while spacing out to the laser lights. Ufomammut’s (the Italian pronunciation for the unidentified flying mammoth is “oofomammoot”) latest opus would be perfect for that, and the band is certainly aware of the possibilities, providing videos for each cut of their double album, Oro: Opus Primum & Opus Alter. An homage to Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” (the 23+ minute song that closes 1971 album Meddle), Oro is actually a single 94 minute song broken up into two albums and ten tracks. The second installment, Oro: Opus Alter came out today.
There’s nothing like a double album to get extra critical attention. In Ufomammut’s case it’s well deserved. Some recent reviews have suggested that they just now have reached their potential as a definitively top-tier space doom band. That’s a load of prehistoric-sized poppycock. To compare the Italian trio’s career arc to John Coltrane, Godlike Snake (2000) is their Blue Train, where they mastered the basic elements of stoner doom, sludge and space rock at the time, without quite surpassing the likes of, say, Electric Wizard. In terms of development, Snailking (2004) goes beyond Giant Steps and My Favorite Things and goes straight to Crescent. Developing some incredible layers of psychedelia, Ufomammut became THE definitive band of their subgenre. Idolum (2008) was more of a consolidation of strengths, so more like Impressions, while Eve (2010) is A Love Supreme, considered by many their crowning achievement both in technique, style and the way it holds together as a cohesive thematic concept. It’s hard to imagine them surpassing it, but that doesn’t hold back their ambition. Oro: Opus Primum & Alter is like Ascension in that it’s meant to be a singular, extended piece that will take many listens to fully absorb and understand, yet at the same time pares certain elements down to their simplest, purest essence. In this case, the riff. Like planets orbiting a star, they’re cyclical and repetitive, but still travel at incredible speed through the expanding universe.
While definitely cacophonous at times, Oro may not be quite as chaotic and challenging as Ascension, but both are about power. Coltrane focused on the power of his agnostic yet intense beliefs and feelings about spirituality and God. Oro refers to a mutation of the Italian palindrome which translates to “gold” with the Latin translation of “I prey,” and is a meditation on the power of knowledge, and human kind’s attempt to control every element around them. Ufomammut seemed to have put some thought into the album as a single track, divided into ten movements, like a classical piece with a sort of musical alchemy that flows, divides and blends eventually into gold.
There are no shortage of bands that manage to sound at times objectively heavier than Ufomammut. But few manage to be so listenable and absorbing, inspiring visceral reactions in listeners, and anticipation for what comes next through a genius command of arrangement, dynamics and flow. When they do fire on all cylinders and bring Thor’s Hammer down, they seem heavier than any other band on the planet. Due to that intensity, the demands they make of listeners and the way they use vocals that are often just distant wails that blend in with the other instruments, they limit their appeal to a particular audience, and will never be the most popular. But no one does what they do better, and for that, they’re simply one of the very best current bands in the world.
The lack of discernable lyrics makes the album resistant to being dissected and analyzed in great detail. It can be done, but the best way to experience it is simply full immersion, both albums in a row. I can’t say whether others will believe Oro is their best album, but the important thing is that for anyone who has liked anything by Ufomammut in the past, it’s definitely worth the time. Either in near or full darkness on big-ass headphones or proper speakers, or perhaps someday with visuals in a 3D theater with an excellent surround sound setup, or, of course, live. Pretty much anything but earbuds and fisher price/smurfwick computer speakers will give a good sense of the immense power of Ufomammut.
For the visuals, we’ll have to make do with YouTube for now. All ten tracks are now available below. See also The Obelisk’s excellent interview with Urlo.
Oro: Opus Primum (Full Video, 51:11)
Oros: Opus Alter