Uzala was one of the first bands I saw when I moved to Boise. At the time, their awkwardness on stage was so profound that I felt it would have been poor taste to write about them. Nevertheless, a major component of their performance, the tone and arrangements, stuck with me from that show. I talked about it with friends for months afterward.
And though the Uzala that took the VAC stage Wednesday night had clearly overcome their confidence issues, lurching and swaying in a sonic trance rather than standing paralyzed like deer in the stagelights, the tones and arrangements remained the same.
Deep sludgy waves of distortion rumbled forth from brilliant sounding tube amps and nice effin' guitars. According to their Myspace page, their grinding death rattles and squeals "sound like a nameless, freezing wind from a nighted abyss," a sound they say is "influenced by loss, longing and suicide." All mythologically themed grandiosity aside, they're right there. The tone was top notch, sounding instantly like doom metal.
But that's the problem. The tone was doing all the work.
The riffs were walls of noise. There were no breaks, no negative space, no polyrhythms, no arrangements and no complexity in melodies or harmonies. It was just the sound of a chord or a note sustained with a beat behind it, again and again until the song was over. It quickly became tiresome to listen to. One could argue that drone music is similar, but the difference was that Uzala's approach wasn't droning. It was just letting the tone do the heavy lifting.
With the right gear, anyone can sound good, whether they can play or not. And that sound can give a convincing illusion of skill. After all, tone is every bit as important as musicianship or songwriting. But just as a bad song is still a bad song even when played by the likes of Steve Vai, or a Steve Vai metal solo is guaranteed to suck on a dime-store acoustic, tone isn't enough. And Uzala is still leaning on it too heavily to stand on their own.