Review: Coma Wall ‘Ursa Minor’ EP

Oxford based outfit Coma Wall formed around 2012 and are an acoustic side-project featuring members of doom/sludge outfit Undersmile. The band consist of Taz Corona-Brown, Hel Sterne, Olly Corona-Brown and Tom McKibbin. It should be noted that Coma Wall‘s last release was the split album, Wood & Wire, they did with Undersmile back in 2013; this was released on The Sleeping Shaman’s head honcho Lee’s very own Shaman Recordings. Coma Wall have performed at the prestigious Desertfest and Roadburn Festivals and supported drone doom legend Dylan Carlson.

Coma Wall ‘Ursa Minor’ EP

Ursa Minor consists of three tracks that date back to 2006/2007 and Taz and Hel’s pre-Undersmile band Ursa Minor (hence the name of the EP). The tracks here were recorded in 2012 and due to the band’s plans being curtailed due to the ongoing pandemic, they decided to take a look through their archives, which is where these demos have surfaced. It should be noted that the performances here were recorded live with bass/string overdubs added at a later date. Band member Tom McKibbin not only recorded the EP, but also did the artwork, which is reminiscent of the gothic tinged alt-country album covers of 16 Horsepower.

The acoustic concept is one that dates back to the MTV unplugged sessions from the 1990s with the likes of Nirvana and Alice in Chains. More recently London doom heroes The River released the Violet Violent Sine Waves EP featuring re-workings of tracks from their Vessels Into White Tides full-length (with the odd new number thrown in). The Ursa Minor EP and Coma Wall project taps into Undersmile‘s love of this format. Their Facebook page in fact describes their genre as ‘Doom Folk’ and lists their influences as Leonard Cohen, Neutral Milk Hotel, Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy to name but a few.

The EP opens with Breathe Into The Ether which is the longest track at four minutes fifty two seconds and is a gorgeous stripped down, bare-boned beauty with Taz and Hel’s vocals harmonizing to brilliant effect. It retains the depressive, downbeat feel of Undersmile but in contrast to being drowned out in effects and noise (nothing wrong with that of course), the simplistic arrangements help to elevate the emotional weight and power to an altogether ethereal level. The strings are used sparingly and tastefully, and in no way distract from the music, instead they enhance it by adding depth and shade. A gorgeous way to open this release.

a gorgeous stripped down, bare-boned beauty with Taz and Hel’s vocals harmonizing to brilliant effect…

Next we have the shortest track on the EP, Wiretaps which has a distinctive Mazzy Star feel. Hope Sandoval’s fragility permeates ever note sung and played here, this is a gut-wrenching track that hits the heart and soul. I sometimes struggle with the acoustic format due to the squeaky clean earnestness and self-indulgent naval gazing of a lot of artists. There is none of that here, instead you get a real honesty and organic spirit to the music being played, as well as a distinct lack of pretension.

Already Dead concludes the EP suggesting influences from gothic alt-country heroes 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand. In fact there is a definite Western spirit to the track and brings to mind the film The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford. As with the film, an overall sense of pathos and tragedy imbues the track’s every pore and sinew.

It takes a lot for me to fully engage with the acoustic format but Coma Wall have succeeded where many have failed. I was left tantalised by the EP and look forward to a full-length release in the future.

Label: Independent
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills