Sunday, February 26, 2012

Umbah - Enter the Dagobah Core

Umbah are a British project that plays a variety of avant-garde metal heavily infused with electronic elements. I was unable to get any concrete information on the evolution of the group's lineup, but it is currently a solo project. The band's output has been steady for some time, though, with 13th full-length albums since 1996. They released Enter the Dagobah Core, their newest effort, earlier this month.

Musically, this was a pretty big step outside the norm for me. I imagine it would be for the majority of metal fans. The use of a drum machine is nothing new to metal, especially with studio projects like this. On the other hand, the use of electronic beats, sound effects, and synths on this record is heavy enough to make it feel more like an electronic album than a metal album in many places. There were honestly parts of several songs where I felt like I was listening to a soundtrack from a mid 90s computer game, or possibly to the closing credits of a cyberpunk anime series. In other places, though, the music is driven by aggressive guitar riffs and furious drum beats. Flowery, progressive guitar work also crops up in places, though typically only as an interlude between other, larger segments of a song.

The vocals on this album are notable for their extreme variety. They range from darkly industrial spoken pieces drenched in effects, to smooth clean singing, to vicious bellowing growls and raspy screams. Often, these shifts will occur multiple times in the same track. This is actually quite representative of the album in general, with frequent and peculiar shifts scattered throughout its duration.

This is honestly a pretty hard album to put my finger on. It changes pace and direction so frequently that even pinning a specific style on it feels somewhat inappropriate, beyond the fact that it has electronic and metal aspects. At various points I heard dubstep "wub wubbing", harsh industrial noise, progressive guitar sections. Sparkling background synths and digital beats would give way to harsh black metal rasps and heavily distorted chord progressions, which themselves would be just as quickly replaced with punk rock shouting. There were moments when this sounded almost exactly like Static X, Slipknot, Devin Townsend, and Mr. Bungle to name just a few bands that sprung to mind as I listened to this.

Ultimately, this degree of variation proves to be a bit overwhelming to the senses. There are parts of this record that I absolutely love, but they are so intertwined with a massive, twisted jumble of ideas that no sooner do they begin to settle in than they vanish back into the nebulous mire of shifting sounds. There are really just too many ideas at work for a single record to effectively contain, so the overall effect is extremely schizophrenic. This makes accurately rating the album almost impossible. As I listened, I found myself going from "this is incredible, maybe the best album of the year" to "this is a bizarre piece of crap, and it deserves a horrible grade" quite literally within the space of a minute or two, and then two minutes later I would change back again. The entire experience reminds me of the saying that the line between genius and insanity is measured only by success. Right now, I'm still not certain just how successful this album really is.

Grade: B+
A complex album, it will probably take me a long time to figure out exactly how I feel about this thing. It might be brilliant, or it might be a disaster, but it's difficult to feel neutral about this record.

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