Uragh – Maelstrom


Dublin metal quartet, Uragh, began life as an aspiration of guitarist, Marcelo Varge, before he turned his vision into a reality by recruiting a bassist and drummer. Things fell into place months later when vocalist, Craig Murphy, joined their ranks to record a three-track demo. Now, after teasing us with three singles in 2023, they have an album to unleash. But this was not part of the original plan. They assumed they’d have enough material for an EP. They’re not quite sure how they arrived at this point with a full-length offering of fifty-four minutes, but they can be proud of their efforts.

Maelstrom is impressive in its ambition. Including three compositions north of the nine-minute threshold is a bold move for a debut album, and it’s one that will alienate the casual listener as much as it will intrigue the fan of the longform immersive experience. Opener, ‘Monarch’, is like a puzzle that encourages you to persist out of respect for its creators and the faith they have in your abilities to solve it. Let’s call it offbeat tech metal with chunky grooves and aggressive hardcore vocals masquerading as death metal. This band strut their stuff as if they spent the last four years in the rehearsal room, yet they only formed in 2022. Listen to the menace of the down-tuned guitars and the militarised drum accents following them with deadly intent. It sounds like a cross between Gojira and Decapitated with the bass operating underneath like a back-up generator. The time signatures are as challenging as a Dillinger Escape Plan composition.

It soon becomes clear that Marcelo Varge has more riffs in his repertoire than a Misha Mansoor/Bulb demo. You want to drop your shoulders and absorb the circular rhythms of ‘Apparition’, but they change so often that you’re unsure how to respond. Murphy’s vocals froth with the intensity of Sylvester Stallone trying to save the woman at the beginning of Cliffhanger. Machine Head fans will feel their veins popping. Likewise, the chugging guitars aim straight for the half-timing beats in ‘The Widening Gyre’ like a technical version of Korn merged with the muscle of Lamb of God. The bass and drums are like siblings who know each other by instinct. It’s a wise decision to avoid a clean chorus where the guitars open the possibility for a melodic focal point. As aggressive as this is, you wonder at this stage if they’re just unbuttoning their shirts for a fist fight in the car park.

Of the three nine-minute epics, ‘Capsize’ is the most successful in its execution. Here they tease the first sign of a clean guitar passage before they hit the turbulence and pursue lift-off with a succession of deep-incision Max Cavalera riffs. A surprise reset at 04:10 to a bass-led face-off with the drums gives you a welcome breather from the testosterone aggression. Listen to the tasty jazz-fusion solo that follows. The nine minutes here do not feel indulgent or superfluous – that’s because Uragh never make it clear where their next move will take them. By contrast, they rely on their passion – rather than their imagination and skill – to see them over the line in ‘Regrowth at the Mouth of Sickness’. Here, a slithering doom metal riff opens like stitches coming apart in human skin before the drummer changes the tempo and Murphy strains every vein his neck. This music leaves you with a permanent sting on your nose. Varge down-picks his strings like a gangster shovelling the last mounds of earth over the grave of his enemy.

Only one thing needs more work for the next record. Too often, Craig Murphy whispers through the quieter parts with a trepidation bordering on self-doubt. He’s at his best when he sounds like a man preparing for a rugby scrum (see ‘El Cazador’). There’s nothing wrong with his macho roaring voice, but his vulnerabilities arrive in full view in closing track, ‘Mo Dhia Maith’. The guitars and bass build from the amps like miasma, but the band decide to centre the next section around a melodic vocal line that only the most experienced singers would attempt in their prime. You can see the majesty of their vision, but the realisation falls just short of it.

Maelstrom lives up to its album title. It allows you to catch your breath among the violent turmoil with a nod to metal’s more progressive structuring. The next record will allow Uragh to correct some of the minor indulgences on show here, but the foundations are already in place for something special.


Verdict


Release Date: 19/04/2024

Record Label: Stoutcore Records

Standout tracks: Monarch, Apparition, Capsize

Suggested Further Listening: Aeons – Consequences (2021), Machine Head – Of Kingdom and Crown (2022), Exist – Hijacking the Zeitgeist (2024)