Uncle Woe – Phantomescence


Uncle Woe are a sludge doom duo from the frozen hills of rural Canada. Now on their second album, they conceived Phantomescence as a distance recording project when it became clear Covid-19 would make it impossible to rehearse and play live. It meant multi-instrumentalist, Rain Fice, would need to be wary of potential virus-sharing and opt for filesharing to compose the record with drummer, Nicholas Wowk. The two met up only once in an empty car park in April to swap a box of corona-compliant microphones and an eight-channel mixer. Many artists created music during this pandemic, but few produced a new album. Uncle Woe aim to be your soundtrack for the isolation of lockdown. Depending on your mood, they could be your panacea.

Phantomescence pays homage to only one deity – the sludgelord. Yet the music is progressive and psychedelic, like Led Zeppelin jamming with Neurosis. The rusty guitar tones and doom bass lines produce a sombre blues, often disguising the simple pentatonic riffs under a slurry of distortion and creeping fuzz. Post-metal and hard grunge meet on ‘Become the Ghost’ like two compatible matches thrown together via a dating algorithm. It should be a convivial encounter, and it is – not that the music is harmonious or likely to make you go weak at the knees. No, this is a different kind of compatibility, like two poisonous gasses combining to wreak a slow death on the unsuspecting population in the town below the hills. Rain Fice is meticulous in his composition, building on every sparse note and spindly bass line to develop the music into a metallic tour de force with many peaks and troughs. ‘On Laden Shores’ is over thirteen minutes in length and just as weighty, like bog soil sucking you into the marshes as you negotiate a journey to the flatlands on the other side. His vocals turn malevolent at the nine-minute mark, switching from a yarling blues tone to a low death metal rasp. The song could easily end at 11.45 seconds but continues for another two minutes.

Mood is everything with sludge and doom metal. The fixed tempo of 80 bpm is supposed to drag and drape you in a shroud of forlorn noise. If this is not your thing, Uncle Woe will do nothing for your tastes. ‘Lucid Degrees of Autoscopic Ruin’ is a case in point. A plodding rhythm of Alice in Chains vocals with the red sun blues of Kyuss has some merits but not enough to retain the attention of an average metal lover. It paves the way for the thirteen-minute closer, ‘A Map of Dead Stars’, which takes the emotion of 70s blues rock soloing and counters it with the type of fuzzy doom riffs that turn your night with a bottle of wine into a nicotine-stained blackout after eight units of Newcastle Brown Ale. Again, Rain Fice reaches a haunting pitch of ghost-like notes reminiscent of Alice in Chains at their most morbid in 1995. Yet the vocals and lyrics read more like psychobabble than a lucid meditation on the darker side of human existence. Sometimes this works by enticing you into the mystical introspection. On other occasions it leaves you as cold as the chill creeping under your windowsill as your eyes doze off and the joint burns through your fingers.

People will remember the Covid-19 pandemic in different ways, but all will agree that frustration and foreboding are two of its unwelcome consequences. Uncle Woe offer no escapism, despite the heavy psychedelia of their music. They give us the art to reflect the epoch we are living in and receive no blame from this reviewer for taking us on a lethargic journey of dark and heavy proportions.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 23/10/2020

Record Label: Packard Black Productions

Standout tracks: Become the Ghost, On Laden Shores

Suggested Further Listening: Kyuss – Blues for the Red Sun (1992), Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy (1973), Neurosis – Through Silver in Blood (1996)