Release Date: 4 Oct 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube
Now, this is an interesting sound! Ultima Radio, from Graz in Austria, are clearly a stoner rock band. Just listen to the fuzzy guitar tone; what else could they be? Well, it isn't all they are.
Just check out the opener, Your Skin, as example. There's a lot of fuzz and a lot of feedback, but there's Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the riffs and the vocalist brings both David Byrne and Jello Biafra to mind. Who else would break into laughter quite like that as the song wraps up and then chant right into the next? The drums are tribal, making for hypnotic rhythm. The end result is similar to Rage Against the Machine or perhaps David Bowie from his Tin Machine era.
So I guess this is really alternative? The Ultima Radio Bandcamp page lists that, along with post-rock and crossover rock, whatever that is. Certainly, there's some experimental stuff going on, as the band find an wild groove at the midpoint of Limber which sounds like surf music fed through a blender. I never heard grunge bands doing that and this otherwise sounds like more Rage but in a Mary My Hope meets the Pixies framework.
7 of 8 finds another interesting groove. Lead vocalist Zdravko Konrad has an element of Iggy Pop in his voice anyway but it comes out to dominate here on a song that's raucous enough to remind of the Stooges, but with the bass as prominent as it would be in a funk metal band. There's also another layer on top of all this at points that I'm not sure is a guitar or keyboards.
I see that, in addition to the five band members on expected instruments, a sixth is credited for Sound and I wonder if that means that Kevin Prügger is not simply the sound engineer but the band member responsible for adding the extra sounds needed through sampling or whatnot. Certainly, when we get to a couple of interludes, we're apparently on a train and no, I don't just mean the standard blues rhythm.
Interlude I sounds like a haunted house theme. On a train. Yeah, it's not an expected thing, but it sounds cool, as does everything else here. For all of the influences I can cite, by the fourth track, Siberian, Ultima Radio sound like themselves, which is a trick that many bands still haven't figured out after decades of activity.
When Interlude II comes around and we're back on the train, I felt like Iggy as The Passenger, stuck in an alien metropolis soaking in everything around me. I see things from under glass. I look through my window's eye. And all of it is yours and mine. Iggy got it from Berlin. It's what I got from Dusk City.
On their website, Ultima Radio give us a little background. They started out as a stoner rock band, but "What we wanted to create was powerful, eccentric music, regardless of the genre it might eventually end up in." That's a good way to describe them. Sure, they're alternative, but this isn't what I think of first when I think alternative. There are relics of stoner rock here but it's not really stoner rock any more and, while there's clearly psychedelia added, it really isn't psychedelic rock at heart either.
Frankly, I could sit here running through different genres for the rest of a day and still not nail it because the point is that it's versatile. The best I can manage is heavy new wave, but I'm not thinking of Duran Duran. There's soundscape work at play here. Imagine someone like Shriekback or OMD ramping up the volume but still moulding sound into new and darker places. There's a lot of Voivod in Icarus, but it's what Voivod got from Pink Floyd, so maybe this is Ummagumma era Floyd moved on a few decades in a parallel dimension. So maybe it's a Radiohead album we've never heard before.
I've taken you all over with this review and probably confused the crap out of you, but that's fine. If you got confused and left, this isn't going to be for you. However, if you're confused and still reading, trying to figure out just what Ultima Radio sound like from my wild comparisons, then this is very likely to be for you. It's original. It's interesting. And it's damned good.
It have a feeling that this may become an abiding favourite of mine, never quite sounding like anything else even as the years run by, alongside Mary My Hope's Museum, Joy Division's Closer and Natalie Farr's Swept. Check back in with me in a decade.