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Smokeless Fire: UADA - DJINN Review

Adapting to the winds of change, the lunar legends make their third wish come true.

Photo by Adriana Michima

Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):


Initially, the plan for this album dissection came in the form of a narrative. In it, the reviewer would lay out some mystical story that would traverse a supernatural Arabian landscape that would somehow spin a tale in tone that paralleled the one the mighty UADA is trying to tell here. That plan, unfortunately, turned to smoke. Beyond the simple truth that there isn't a good enough story to weave that could personify the power behind this album — and there were many drafts — there were simply too many curve-balls, too many surprises, too much shifting focus, and too many keyboard-clutchingly intense moments that to try and recreate such a feeling in some anecdotal sense feels hollow and unworthy. Instead, I'm just gonna unleash this genie from the lamp. Its power can not be understated.

Djinn. If it weren't already clear, the boys from the PNW are here to drop bombs from the first single. The title-track alone was a weapons-grade hit that people familiar with the moon-crüe already could never have guessed came from the same group on first examination. Gnashing at the bit with a funky riff that is unlike the rest of the catalog, a crisp snare cracks at listeners in the foreground with a richly mid bass tone that slithers above the score, a sound change that sets up a vastly different UADA than people are potentially ready for. It's clear from lineup changes in recent days that there's more to this diversity than simply diversion. This is chemistry that kicks, and with the chirping rhythm that rings out in eighths across each measure of a verse, it's clear that the sound has taken a hard left into territory that makes this band a technical think-tank for black metal artists looking to reinvent the wheel. More variations on vocals that aren't tired or gimmicky, a traditional black metal one-two punch that sets the song pacing into third-gear, and a wicked fading interlude after the halfway marker that halted this reviewer in place. It's a change-up pitch with a trilling solo that bends and breaks all the rules. It's new, and different, and will suck anyone in who thought they heard it all before.

The Great Mirage. Fans of Cult of a Dying Sun (2018) will clutch onto this one quick. Isolated guitars being vacuumed out at light-speed into a fury of pedals take a swift backseat to a threateningly quick tremolo medley that introduces the pace, dropping out shortly thereafter into what feels much akin to part two of the first song. Long sustains of dual-tone take a quick two step up between a battering kit, the *tink-tink-tink* of the Hi-Hats emerging only when the onslaught reaches its inevitable precipice. An apparently meta event takes place at four minutes; those who are familiar with UADA know their use of blues and the strangely Arabian tones that at times emanate from this group's guitars. It's a facet of their unique sound that creeps from the depths in times of need, and the will is strong here. A high-octave hammer trills up the neck from the bottom, breaking free in the form of a vicious guitar solo that is so unlike the group's previous works that it will shake listeners who aren't ready for the change-up. It's fantastically improvisational, and such a cure for black metal monotony that it could score any such genre's work and stand in the limelight.

No Place Here. Bursting from the gate with a familiar theme of previous works, this track seats itself gently upon a heavy drum cadence filled with crash in a mystical passage that comes on unlike any song the group has made to date. So much more than the sum of its parts, this track is an example of why the band continues to impress listeners. There's a grand psychedelic influence that takes cultural elements from the past and transcribes them into a new musical formula in a way that Black Metal just isn't known for. Those who try are seen as derivative, and UADA is anything but. Clocking in at thirteen and a half minutes, this song is nearly the longest one ever penned by the band, usurped from its throne only by the penultimate conclusion to this longplay; and it's one that goes by in a flash. Cyclical, and deliberately patterned to maintain this group's keen sense of symmetry — there's just nothing else quite like it from anywhere else in the world. It is a uniquely Cascadian process, and right up to its conclusion that rings into the void, it will keep others guessing. Featuring a quote from the legendary Vincent Price in his performance of The Masque of the Red Death (1964), this song takes the mysticism and the arid atmosphere built upon by three tracks previously, and lays down to a soliloquy that is in no way harsh, phonetically. The despair, the malice, and the contempt is imbued in the message itself.

In the Absence of Matter. For fans of the purest form of UADA, there is no substitute for this one. This fourth stop is the meat and potatoes of what Devoid of Light (2016) did best. Lightning fast riffs inside a relentless onslaught of beats, with a sick little drum fill intro to kick things off. There is a short breakaway that much like the title-track from the first album, slows things down to a near breakdown crawl. It's abbreviated and only appears intermittently, but it's enough to feel where they came from, as well as where they went from there. A new vocal style makes an appearance on this tune, much clearer than the rest. Reverberating and ominous, it resembles the almost INQUISITION-like vocals from Sphere (Imprisonment) that the band introduced on Cult of a Dying Sun, minus the digital hoarseness that was added in post-production. This kind of change is a stunner, but a great one. The range at which the group finds its voice is broad, so much so that it's more about feeling that you're listening to Jake Superchi as the dynamic vocal workhorse that he is, than just hearing the thick rasp behind every howl and growl as a faceless entity.

Forestless. Without question, this song treads the most into psychedelic terrain of the bunch, but steps back into its comfort zone before you begin to miss it. Chiming and echoing, listeners are introduced to the tune as sonic sounds bray to the familiarity of the twinkling of cymbals. The innocuous and chemistry is not meant to last, though. As the blood begins pumping, a new element is introduced with each new passage, a few measures at a time, a new instrument at every step. Drums, bass, both guitars, and as it's ripped away into silence for a moment — it's replaced by precisely what one would expect. It's melodic as hell, nostalgic, and catchy. What makes it work is what everyone can assume to be the case. It's a retrospective song that could've existed in 2016 with all the bells and whistles of a group that is branching out into lands unknown. At five minutes in, the sound of what this reviewer believes to be a keyboard can be heard playing what feels like a modern middle-eastern folk medley, but replicated to sound like a Qanun, quite masterfully. It's the same kind of refrain you'd hear in any other UADA song, but done in this manner, it's worth its weight in gold for the atmosphere it brings to the composition. Nothing feels inauthentic. It adds so much, for so little cost, organically.

Between Two Worlds. The trip comes to a dramatic halt as this song takes over, ripping the bandage off without warning from the first second. The chants that had been teased for so long come to the forefront, layer upon layer, endless tone upon the next, making the transformation into folk metal album complete. It's a level of throat-singing that is both entrancing and unsettling, and ultimately a vessel for what comes next. With funky beat and bounciness galore, a last ride through this desert of awe and intrigue is what awaits, at least until two minutes have passed. Much as the same with their two previous offerings, the band's impeccable notion for pacing comes out in waves. Emulating both the ambiance and the timbre of the first track, this song delivers a dense liquidity in the form of a seamless stream of melody from long tremolo measures of endurance that give up their role between verses two the same groovy tune, while Nate Verschoor takes up the mantle of a deep master of syncopation from here until the end. Virtually all of the descant fragments from five minutes onward are a pulpit from which James Sloan showcases his finest talent: shredding like a madman. At approximately seven minutes in, the steady rhythm of the track is unseated by an apocalyptic, dissonant guitar solo whose foreboding presence spells the end of both the wishmaker, and the end of another Arabian night. The ending, so jarring and detached from the rest of the song, let alone the album — is a crowd-teasing, foot-stomping, high-octave siren song of triumph and conclusion that leaves listeners to beg the question of endings. Has the Genie escaped the lamp, at last? Or will the vessel be buried again, tumbling and shifting beneath dry winds until another unfortunate soul releases it from its insipid, and unassuming chamber of bondage?

Djinn makes no concessions in its quest to both impress and confound listeners. It's a healthy dose of what audiences expect from UADA, with a copious cocktail of shockingly out-of-character cameos from middle-eastern folklore, and Maqām music theory, to a point that displays both a classical discipline and appreciation for traditional influences, side-by-side with the rebellious and spirited dimension of what has come from this new renaissance of American Black Metal. Those seeking an invitation to a world that is criminally undervalued in the realm of extreme music look no further, as this offering can both accommodate die-hards and illuminate those who have little to no experience with the moon crüe. It's a solid, fine-tuned piece of art that filters out the nonsense of trying to recreate some tired, dying image of KVLT imagery that has plagued the European Black Metal scene for decades now with no end in sight. With utter conviction, this reviewer has no reservations in making the claim that Djinn is a bold step in the right direction for both the band and the genre as a whole, and if more people embraced the notion that the world is bigger than just the meta-game of music composition, there would be more groups like UADA — ready, and willing to leap before looking — searching for the oasis of creation in an arid wasteland of monotony and complacence.


Djinn is out today, courtesy of Eisenwald Records. Summon your own copy, HERE.

Cover art by Kris Verwimp


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