Asa delves into the belly of the beast with a review of some new post black metal from the UK, here’s what he thinks…
Underdark are 5-piece Black Metal band from Nottingham that blends elements of Post-Rock, Atmospheric Black Metal and Second Wave Black Metal. Formed in 2016, the band consists of Abi (Vocals), Adam (Guitars), Ollie (Guitars), Stephen (Bass) and Dan (Drums), and have released 1 E.P (Mourning Cloak, 2016) and 1 split (with Antre, 2018), alongside a few compilations. The lyrics cover societal and political concepts, seemingly on the left-winged side of things. All of this should give you a pretty great indication of whether or not you’re going to enjoy this release. Post-Black Metal is already a controversial enough topic for most Black Metal fans, mix in some political elements and it only helps fuel the controversy. However, this review won’t explore the views of the band as that is down to you listeners to dig into, instead focusing on the music provided.
‘Qeres’ starts things off in suitably atmospheric fashion, with ambient, melodic clean guitars, rumbling bass lines and spoken word vocals creating a somber tone. The Post-Rock influence is on clear display, with the blackened elements seamlessly blended in with raspy gurgles and distorted chords. The slow build turns into a terrific storm of Atmospheric Black Metal majesty, with the riffs being simultaneously hopeful yet despairing, based on your mood. The switches in tempo and moods help keep things interesting, with the drums providing a savage backbone with furious double bass work and ferocious blast beats. Abi gurgles, gargles, rasps and roars through the 7-minute plus ripper, adding a sense of urgency and desperation to the affair. Second Wave Black Metal flourishes add further depth to the darkness, contrasting with the beautiful melodies of the atmospheric riffs. All of this culminates with a thundering outro that slowly fades to nothing. It’s a brilliant opener that sets up a lot of what is to come.
The title track follows next with more melodic riffs and pummeling blasts. The bass adds another level of dirt to the admittedly raw production, giving the guitars plenty of added heft. The way the band seamlessly blend various styles together is quite incredible, with the darker, menacing tones of Scandinavian Black Metal worked brilliantly with the softer, entrancing riffage of contemporary Post-Black. At the halfway mark, a calm ambience takes over, as soothing clean guitars wash over you after 4 minutes of an emotional rollercoaster. This section wouldn’t feel out of place on Workhouse album or even a Melodic Hardcore release (think Being As An Ocean for a reference point). The different layers all add depth, pulling you deeper into their trance. Things slowly build until everything breaks into a horrific frenzy of dark, chaotic riffs, blasts and vocals for the homestretch. ‘Coyotes’ calms things down with another clean intro, ambient layers and all. After the disharmonious finish to the previous track, it’s a much-needed breath of fresh air. Slow, delicate drums lead into a distorted version of the intro, accompanied by Abi’s rasps and ground-shaking bass. The expected melodic riffs and blast beats follow the soothing beginnings, with the song switching between slower tempos to contrast with the faster blackened sections. There’s some wonderful use of melodic layering, with atmospheric leads underlining the rhythms creating a surreal feeling of serenity.
The penultimate track, ‘With Ashen Hands Around Our Throats’, goes full-throttle to the floor with grim tremolo picked riff work and head-crushing blast beats. Paired with the ethereal melodicism of the other guitar parts, it makes for some intense listening. The pace slows down at the halfway point, leading into another excellent clean section that is pleasantly mellifluous. Even when things become distorted once more, this feeling is extended over the top. It keeps you locked into an enchanting daze until the song rather abruptly stops. It’s the kind of thing that could be repeated for another 4 minutes and you wouldn’t care, still disappointed that it eventually must end. We’ve now reached the end of the album, with the final track entitled ‘Skeleton Queen’. Slower paced drums married with melodic riffs, uneasy layers and harsh bellows flow effortlessly into blast beats and atmospheric guitars. Back and forth between slow, deliberate sections and fast, blasting chaos keeps you on the edge of your seat as you never know what is going to happen. A brief clean interlude and a frantic, rather desperate sounding spoken word passage quickly lends itself to a particularly doom-ladened section that adds a gloomy atmosphere. This doesn’t last long however, as another clean section greets us, basking us in golden sun and a sense of hopefulness. The difference is day and night but is excellent for those who often feel hopeless. Distorted chords ring throughout, with a wonderful clean lead played over the top adding heaps of additional wallop to it all. And then it ends, almost as quickly as it started.
So… Final thoughts? I’ll get the production out the way first. It’s a rather raw sounding record, though it’s a Black Metal release made by an independent band so that’s to be expected. It isn’t so raw that you can’t hear anything as everything is easy to decipher with crisp guitars making all of the atmospheric and melodic undertones incredibly digestible, gritty bass adding plenty of thunder and drums that still pack incredible heat, despite the rawness of their sound. The vocals are very much at the front, which works well for what the band are trying to achieve. The additional layers are also easy to pick out so, despite the raw quality of the record, you don’t have to strain your ears. This is a Black Metal album made by English people in 2021, not by some edgy Norwegian kids in the early 90’s. The performances are also excellent. Everyone plays exceptionally well with tight guitars, bass that is simple in technicality but massive in impact, drums that sound like a human played them yet maintain an insane degree of tightness and a vocal performance that is in your face and proud of it, adding an intensity to the record that most Black Metal bands fail to reach.
Lastly, the music. It’s impressive stuff, that blends a few stylistically different genres together into one cohesive package. There’s a maturity to the music that puts them on par with more notable bands of the style, and a clear passion for the music they play and the message they convey. It doesn’t take much for you to feel convinced of their love for what they do as it’s felt in every note played, every rasp, shout and lyric, even in the savage blast beats. The album is rather short, but it warrants repeat listens. It doesn’t pull out many surprises with a lot of the same ideas used in every song but that shows a clear sound they’re trying to achieve, and they achieve it to a supreme standard. It’s a hypnotic, dark, sorrowful, hopeful listen that will either make you cry tears of despair or of joy, dependent on your mood. If you like Post-Black or Atmospheric Black Metal then this is an album for you. Underdark have crafted something special here and it’ll be interesting to see where they go from here. They should be proud in their achievement, and you should definitely go give it a listen. Fantastic work.
The Album is available everywhere today – 30th July 2021 – follow the Linktree to get connected, physical or streaming