Urzah- The Scorching Gaze (Album Review)

May 2, 2024


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The Scorching Gazemay be Urzah’s full-length debut, but they come out of the gate with a confident sound thanks to the time they’ve spent developing their writing on two prior EP’s.  The Bristol, England based band is hard to pin down stylistically, as while sludge and post metal serve as the foundation of their sound there are flourishes of metalcore and even some progressive moments.  It’s a slow burning effort that moves between more direct assaults and sprawling atmospheric passages, and while a few moments do overstay their welcome there’s plenty here to keep listeners coming back.

Urzah smartly saves their more exploratory and sprawling moments for later in the album, as opener “I, Empyrean” does its best to hit as hard as possible with a driving tempo and dense grooves.  There’s a lot of sludge and post metal present right out of the gate, and you’ll immediately notice that The Scorching Gaze boasts production values that allow for the heavy tonality to thump you right in the chest while still allowing space for the melodic flourishes to break through.  Once you get to the third track, “Immateria Noir”, the sound begins to open up a bit more and things slow down.  There are still plenty of heavier grooves, but the way the writing ebbs and flows brings in a bit more doom along with some progressive flourishes.  From the middle of the album onward you can generally get a sense for whether songs will be a more direct attack or an atmospheric affair based on their length, as both “A Storm Is Ever Approaching” and “Of Decay” bring in some metalcore riffs alongside the pummeling sludge while the two-part “Thera” emphasizes an almost psychedelic atmosphere that reminded me of Yob.  The longer tracks do prove to be a slow burn and I did find that both “Immateria Noir” and “Thera I (Sea of Flames)” felt like they ran for just a bit too long, but their peaks still kept me coming back for more.  I also wasn’t crazy about there being essentially two interludes before and after “A Storm Is Ever Approaching”, as it felt unnecessary.  But the memorable nature of the grooves and entrancing atmosphere on the slower numbers has kept drawing me back even with these critiques, and Urzah’s ability to seamlessly pull in so many different styles helps them to stand out.

The vocals fall somewhere between metalcore and post metal, as singer/guitarist Ed Fairman utilizes a scream/yell that stands tall above the instrumentation.  Sometimes the pitch reminds me of metalcore circa the early to mid 2000s, while other times are closer to bands like Rosetta with how the screams reverberate and have this larger than life presence.  It’s an approach that works to Urzah’s advantage, and the way that the verses are spaced keeps the vocals feeling as intense as possible with each appearance.  Things are also broken up by guest singer Eleanor Tinlin on “The Aesthetic”, which gives a much softer and introspective tone that provides a brief respite from the harsher ranges.  The performances may not deviate significantly from what you’d expect from an album of this type, but anyone with an affinity for post metal will find Fairman’s power makes the material hit that much harder.

Placing both interludes right in the middle of the album hurt the pacing slightly and a few of the longer tracks overstay their welcome by just a bit, but what Urzah has achieved on their first full-length is impressive.  There are plenty of catchy and destructive grooves that tread post metal and sludge territory alongside more sprawling, atmospheric melodies that add in some progressive flourishes, giving listeners plenty to discover with each time through.  Urzah also seems to be setting themselves up to experiment with the progressive elements even further in the future, so it’ll be interesting to hear where they head in the years to come.  The Scorching Gaze is available from APF Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg