Monday, February 18, 2013

Utah - Utah (2013)

When a band called Utah releases an album, also titled "Utah," it would be easy to guess where they are from. Exactly! Athens, Georgia based Utah, who doubled their members from two to four, can be labeled as a lot of things, but boring isn't one of them. With influences ranging from Kiss to Celtic Frost, and Black Flag, their music is a combinations of so many heavy elements, without being confined by any one of them. So when drummer and co-founder Larry Chosky left in 2011, it only makes sense that a band with a sound that was big chose to get bigger, adding the talents of bassist Chris Parry, drummer Chris Holcombe, and guitarist John McNeece. Along with remaining co-founder Wil Smith, not to be confused the the jiggy rapper and movie star of the same name, the now massive sound of Utah is enough to crush planets. But with two times as many moving parts, could their self titled full length be up to the task?

The boisterous opening track, a marvelous play on words called "Bisontennial," may be the best possible scenario for a band trying to flex their new found muscles. Disturbingly raw but packed full of monstrous riffs, the psychedelic haze that emits from your speakers at this point will either be a welcomed one, or a form of poison gas. But beneath that murky exterior is a blistering guitar groove, poking its head out of the swamp every now and then.The much more rocket powered "Chickamauga" follows, with a step up in not only tempo, but execution. Packed full of ringing cymbal crashes and blues inspired guitar riffs, what you have in front of you is seven and a half minutes worth of tie dyed sludge that will rattle you to your toes. But for all of the successes in the instrumental half, there are failures on the vocal side. While raw and unpolished can work in many instances, they simply fall flat here. The doom passage that follows more than redeems the track, ending in an airy and oddly clean acoustic segment. Part of the strength of the album lies in the way the tracks flow into and play off of one another. To that point, "Ambian" picks up where the previous song left off, building up from that clean guitar in a psychedelic prog rock offering. There is a clear division between appetizer and main course, a chasm around the three minute mark that signals the end of the light, and the start of the darker side. Sounding like the bizarre love child of Black Sabbath and Pantera, vocals and band step in sync and give you a piece of classic metal.

With half of "Help" consumed by one riff, it almost seems as though you are sitting in the midst of a four minute interlude. But when the vocals do enter, there is a change in the weather, albeit a small one. The track begins to gain momentum, something that is important after following two tracks with a combined run time of fifteen minutes. But it isn't until the opening notes of "Kneecaps" that the proverbial ball gets rolling again. To say that the main guitar lead is catchy doesn't do it justice; Simplistic, yet effective, you may find yourself repeating the track before moving forward, just to get that riff down. But as the instrumental builds, the onus remains on the vocals to deliver a strong performance, something they do here in all of their filthy glory. What they lack in melodic sensibility, they make up for with their own unique amelodic crooning. With a bit of soulful acoustic plucking, you find the end of one track, and the beginning of the next. As with most albums, there is bound to be a standout track that warrants multiple listens even for the uninitiated. For Utah, that track seems to be "Traveler" which, in a smoky cloud, shows off a versatility that may have gone unnoticed to this point. With it is the often nimble lead, or the repeating rhythm guitar, the heavy distortion that is shaking your speakers is sure to strike a familiar chord with you. Completed with a robotic tinged spoken word, this is a signature track for a band looking to explode.

Speaking of explosions, the blissfully short and again wordsmith worthy "Leaf Us" is the faster side of a band that has mastered the slow side. Combining the yelling groove of a band like Arke with the crudeness of Aleph Null, this serves as the perfect segue into the bombastic "Cryogenics." The booming of the kick drums pierces through the wall of distortion and cymbal crashes, giving an extra boost to the low end. That stomping groove only heightens the experience here, eliciting so much more than a simple nod of the head. And as it breaks down into a much quieter passage, you know that the hammer only has moments before it drops. The translation from disc to live show would be defined by tracks like this one, lending itself as the perfect show closer. But as for the closing track of the album itself, the twelve minute plus "Black Sandwich," there are few surprises left in store, but a whole lot of crushing distortion to survive. from the opening verse, into the yelling chorus lines, you are pushed to the brink of your sanity. But as you get to the half way point, all of that weight is lifted off of your shoulders. Instead of a crashing, thrashing, doomed finish, you are left with six minutes of feedback, noise, and echoes. It would seem an odd choice for any other band or any other album, but here it all seems to fit.

Call them stoner. Call them doom. Call them bizarre. Say what you will about Utah, but it is nearly impossible to say they are doing it the wrong way. The stumbles that the album contains, the few trip ups that you encounter early, may do the album a disservice. But once you move past those bumps in the road, it turns into smooth, mind altering sailing. With every track bursting at the seams with unchecked hum, and an ability to throw caution to the wind, there is an uneasy, unstable foundation that seems to sway and bend in the wind. For most bands, that would be a recipe for disaster. But when it comes to this band, this four piece, I don't think you would want, or could even have it, any other way. Pitch correction, auto-tune, post production fixes have no place here. And whatever you want to call this style of music, you could never call it bland.


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