Everybody has that list of bands that they swear they’re going to check out at some point, I just need time, I’m just busy with work, I swear I’ll get to them tomorrow, repeat ad infinitum. One of the bands who sat at the top of my own such list for a good deal of time was Portland, OR’s Usnea. I’m an absolute sucker for anything funeral doom, so it seems absurd that I had not given this band more than a casual glance yet. Fortunately, I have a chance to fix that now that the band is set to release their new album, Portals Into Futility, next week.
Usnea’s musical formula is exactly what one expects to hear from this micro-genre; death growls, sludgy riffs, and sprawling ambiance abound on Portals…, reminiscent of the best parts of bands like Evoken and Bay Area contemporaries Lycus. Usnea apply these influences to create a ceremonial feeling, like a mass for the end of the world. Opening track “Eidolons and the Increate” features choral, droning vocals that give a high spiritual feel to the song, “Demon Haunted World” shows the band at their sludgiest and most vicious, and “Pyrrhic Victory” showcases the band’s ability to craft gorgeous ambient sections full of shimmering clean guitar. Portals Into Futility hits every note that I could want from an album of its kind, and it does so with a balance of muscular riffs and airy brilliance that is spot on.
Possibly my favorite aspect of Portals Into Futility is that the band includes suggested reading accompaniment to go with the album, which includes works such as Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Lathe of Heaven” (both of which inspired song titles on Portals…), Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Phillip K. Dick’s “Valis” among others. Besides always being in dire need of book recommendations, funeral doom (at least for me) is one of the more immersive genres, something you sink your whole consciousness into, and this willingness to go above and beyond to foster a mood in the mind of the listener sold me on Usnea, and makes me even more excited to pour over this album in the future alongside these works.
Portals Into Futility is funeral doom comfort food: rock solid, intelligent, and a totally immersive experience. This is sure to be an album that gets thrown in heavy rotation when I’m in the mood for some gloom. Check that one off the list.