On their 2021 full-length debut, Serpent & Spirit, Urne suffered an identity crisis. Featuring former members of the under-appreciated Hang the Bastard, the London-based trio showcased ample ability to transition between Mastodon-ian prog-metal and Metallica-esque thrash (the Death Magnetic variety rather than anything from their classic LPs). Yet, these admirable reference points were tempered by the misguided inclusion of Southern rock in the Every Time I Die hardcore vein (“Envy the Dead”) as well as Architects-inspired modern emocore, not to mention an on-the-nose aping of Deftones’ “Ping Maggit” in the form of “Memorial – Sing Me to Rest”.
So, while there was no disputing Urne’s ability to cleave heads with powerfully hewn sludge/thrash riffs and rhythms, the jumping between niche styles without an overarching sound pinning everything into a cohesive whole damaged the album’s ultimate value. New LP, A Feast on Sorrow, remedies the song-writing issues found on the debut. This collection is stylistically uniform, yet the individual songs are also effectively engaging on a standalone basis. The focused execution here leaves an immediate impression that Urne are, creatively speaking, now comfortable in their own skins and have found the right artistic path upon which to ascend.
This creative journey has not come without suffering, but has anything worthwhile ever been achieved without pain? A Feast on Sorrow was conceived over two years, during which bassist/vocalist Joe Nally lived through the deterioration and ultimate passing of two family members suffering from degenerative conditions. Such deep personal grief sank into the bones of the new music created by Nally, guitarist Angus Neyra, and new drummer James Cook, setting an austere tone running throughout the aptly titled record.
Gojira vocalist/guitarist Joe Duplantier recorded A Feast on Sorrow at his band’s Silver Cord studio. Aided by a supremely robust mix courtesy of the legendary Ted Jensen (Pantera, Fear Factory, Bob Marley), Duplantier and his in-house engineer have admirably captured the weight of the musicianship and the grief-stricken frustration steaming off Nally’s aggressive vocals. “The Flood Came Rushing In” showcases this extremely serious version of Urne from its first sonic clang and the anguished screams of “Where do the memories go?”. From here, the opener is all churning and stomping crossover thrash, replete with a doom-laden chorus section that adds welcome dynamism.
Urne’s control of tempo changes is as striking as their impact on creating drama within each musical movement. Following the dirge-like “To Die Twice”—which rivals the discordant fury of the excellent new Will Haven record and finishes with a peaceful acoustic coda—the first of A Feast on Sorrow’s two lengthy tracks, “A Stumble of Words”, begins. Across 11 minutes, Urne’s post-metal pummel offers tribalistic rhythms, passages that recall the regal riff architecture of Opeth, an affective raw chorus, and a winding melodic solo section that is classic rock/metal in tone and phrasing, yet works fantastic as a contrast.
Placed at the fulcrum of the record are the first two singles released, “The Burden” and “Becoming the Ocean”; these tracks are, as expected, the most immediately absorbed off A Feast on Sorrow. The former’s turbulent syncopated riffs update the monochromatic bludgeon of …And Justice for All for the modern era, with Urne flashing glimpses of a black metal influence that works well in tandem. While the latter’s use of the ocean’s unstoppable power as a metaphor for the relentless cruelty of terminal illness is underpinned by the kind of technical thrash Machine Head excel at.
The last of the two sprawling tracks on A Feast on Sorrow, “The Long Goodbye / Where Do the Memories Go?”, follows the gnashing title track and begins with an expressive lead section, rich with emotive playing by Neyra. A brutalist stomp cuts off the doomy sway and Urne vault between moments of double-bass propelled power grooves and neck-snappin’ Bay Area thrash transitions, all of which builds to a passionate crescendo that ends the record on a truly poignant note.
The artist’s ability to convey raw emotion to the listener is one of real music’s most magical traits. Urne have now learned of the power that true storytelling and purging of real-life pain have. Anyone who hears this record will surely feel the tangibility of suffering embedded here from beginning to end. Death is one of the few things everyone has in common; the agony of loss is another. Urne have turned personal suffering into art, and the cathartic effect of doing so will no doubt push this exciting band to the next level.