Review: Kadabra ‘Umbra’

Spokane, Washington’s Kadabra made quite an impact with their 2021 debut Ultra. Released on Heavy Psych Sounds, much praise was heaped on the band from the global stoner and doom scene by fans, and media alike, including myself, as I had Ultra, one of my first handful of reviews for The Sleeping Shaman, in my Top Ten of 2021.

Kadabra 'Umbra' Artwork
Kadabra ‘Umbra’ Artwork

Kababra, featuring Garrett Zanol on guitar and vocals, Ian Nelson on bass, and Chase Howard on drums, formed in the dark days of the pandemic in 2020, present a straightforward, yet distinctive take on stoner rock, leaning heavily into early ‘70s proto-metal, and whilst not anything we haven’t heard before necessarily, their sound is a well-executed display of tone, delivery, and style. So, it’s with this background that they’re poised to release their much-anticipated sophomore LP, Umbra, once again through Heavy Psych Sounds.

It’s evident immediately that they have solidified their sound, and expanded on the promise of Ultra, as the dreamy, yet heavy, instrumental opener White Willows soon gives way to Nelson’s charging bass, announcing the slamming, driving High Priestess, which features some monster riffs, anchored by their immense rhythm section as well as the introduction of some well-placed organ flourishes, courtesy of Blake Braley. The track, which is also the second single off Umbra, showcases Kadabra’s growth and immediate sense of purpose, as the band sound fantastic, Zanol’s vocals and riffing being of particular note.

Midnight Hour is an organ-drenched, ‘70s style rocker, wherein the rhythm section is on full display showcasing their sense of power and groove. The Serpent, the last single to be released, is more of a fuzzy, mid-tempo bash-fest, that displays Zanol’s uncanny ability to meld the catchy and the heavy to maximum effect as his mountain-moving riffs and echo-y vocals provide the perfect counterbalance. First single, The Devil features some of the band’s most earworm riffing and a full-on Sabbath-style swing in the drums and bass, that is once again deftly complimented by the ethereal vocals as well as a unique sense of timing and space.

earworm riffing and a full-on Sabbath-style swing in the drums and bass, that is once again deftly complimented by the ethereal vocals…

Battle Of Avalon, after some opening, melancholic guitar histrionics, a slow-build thumping from the rhythm section and some tasteful organ action explodes into a crushing, charging, riff-fest, conjuring sonic comparisons to Down’s I Scream off Over The Under in places, as well as being capably complimented by Braley’s organ. The track really showcases Kadabra’s songwriting dynamic as following the charging riffs, they descend into a tripped-out psychedelic movement before launching into a buildup. Featuring plenty of guitar leads and organ blasts, the band works the song back up, before unleashing that devastating main riff again as they carry the song to its conclusion. Battle of Avalon, to my ears, serves as the centerpiece of Umbra, and seems to be sequenced as such.

Mountain Tamer unfolds into a bluesy, riffy, stomp that’s cemented by a wrecking ball swing and lifts the song through the mellower, trippier moments, all before the listener is inevitably leveled by Kabadra’s sonic heft once again. Closer, The Serpent ll is a killer acoustic track in which Zanol stretches his wings and shows what an instinctive songwriter and vocalist he is. This track actually reminds me a lot of the vibe and energy of Thomas V Jager from Monolord’s first solo album A Solitary Plan. Kadabra couldn’t have chosen a better closer to the album than this as it wraps up proceedings perfectly, acting as the ultimate sonic cherry on top of the proverbial musical sundae. As well, closing with a spacey acoustic track feels like the perfect call back to the proto-metal albums of the ‘70s.

It goes without saying that The Pacific Northwest has a long, rich history of fuzzed-out, heavy, rock and roll, and Kadabra definitely are following in that tradition while carving their own path. Umbra sounds absolutely stellar, the tone of the instrumentation is warm and organic, and while Zanol rightfully gets a lot of flowers for his performance, it’s the rhythm section, particularly Howard’s otherworldly performance, tone, and power on the drums that serve as the band’s secret weapon. Umbra is a tremendous follow-up to Ultra with Kadabra taking their sound and songwriting up a level, and releasing, what certainly looks to be, yet another album that will land on many year-end lists, including mine.

Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
Band Links: Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Matthew Williams