Underdark – Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry

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

Vulgaris – Asundre

Paul Hutchings explores the Blacker side of extreme metal, with the new debut album from Vulgaris!

37 minutes of crunching black metal goodness crawls out of the speakers. Maybe goodness is the wrong word to use, as this is a vile and filthy debut release from London based four-piece Vulgaris.  

Intro ‘Causeway’ immediately spreads a disturbing atmosphere with its ghostly noises and feeling of impending doom. That is quickly dispelled by a ferocious riff combined with thundering drums and gravel-soaked screams as the band dive headfirst into opening song ‘Six-Rivers’. Vulgaris favour a full-frontal aural assault approach but are unafraid to throw in a smattering of melody which is laced throughout the album. ‘Six Rivers’ is a brave opening track. Riding in at just shy of nine minutes it ebbs and flows, explosive parts combined with more measured doom-laden passages, the guitar work visceral and dangerous as they flash in and out of the track.  

Utilising sound effects and samples, Vulgaris roar quickly into ‘Separation Anxiety’, which thunders along at high velocity with an underlying groove that makes nodding the head compulsory; the swirling guitars exploding into a semi-Motörhead style. It’s here that you realise that there is more to Vulgaris than a run of the mill black metal outfit, with the wild, almost uncontrollable feel blending more influences. Hell, there’s even some rock n’ roll in the mix. ‘Lucid Screaming’ blends Iron Maiden-esque duelling guitar work with a death metal feel; I’m not sure how well this track works overall but it adds to the variation.  

The mix is a challenge. It may well be that the review copy is yet to have the final application of lacquer. One can only hope so, because whilst the current style adds an old -school flavour, it does mean that when the band are racing along at top speed, things get a bit fuzzy and blurred. J Michael’s vocals vary in style and delivery, with the more frenetic bursts less appealing that the more measured roars. Yet, the gritty, raucous feel of the album is one of the more attractive elements of ‘Asundre’. Like nails down the blackboard this gets under the skin and is likely to interest those who are looking for a continuation of the blackened death metal that has made a resurgence in recent years.  

Vulgaris – Asundre is released on the 26th February on BandCamp HERE

Hell Born – Natas Liah

Paul Hutchings takes a trip to the dark side and visits Hell Born!

Originally a side-project of ex-members of Behemoth and Damnation, Hell Born soon became its own vile creation. The band were in motion from 1996 with their eponymous debut EP, but it was between 2001 – 2008 when they fired out four full length releases that the Polish outfit really obtained traction. 2008’s Darkness wasn’t that well received and apart from a couple of split EPs, the Hell Born camp has been relatively quiet. Until now.

The earth shakes as the explosive first bars of When You Are God erupts from the speakers. Within seconds you know that the return of these masters of blackened death thrash will be one of triumph. The three-piece, Baal Ravenlock on bass/vocals, guitarist Les and newly acquired drummer Diabolizer are intent on delivering a brutal battery and over the 50 minutes of this album they do that, and then some.

Natas Liah drips with the blood of impaled Christians. Hell Born have never made a secret of their Satanic and anti-religious stance. This album is no exception and the raw, muscular assault which is barely contained within this record strains sinews, bursts blood vessels and excites in its sheer bitterness. A war rages and Hell Born intend to emerge victorious. Sandwiched between When You Are God and the closing punishment of Blakk Metal, seven tracks which vary in intensity, pace, and power. The slower doom drenched Ye Olde Woods Devil throbs with massive riffage, tempo switching from powerful crushing pace to more aggressive, thrashing styles. It’s a song that sums up the awesome power of a band whose long years of brooding watchfulness has clearly been summoned and subsequently unleased. The precision riffing of Uroboros and the bludgeoning delivery of The Butcher contrast massively yet sit comfortably alongside each other.

The fires of battle have been lit and Hell Born have clawed their blood covered fingers to the top and victory. Tight, confident, and drawing inspiration from their earlier works, Hell Born have released a bit of a monster. The album features guest contributions from Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski and had a sound perfectly honed by Haldor Grunberg (Behemoth, Blaze Of Perdition etc).

There’s nothing to criticise here. It’s a demonic blasting treat and an album that should have no difficulty in vying for a place amongst the best of 2021

Hell Born ‘Natas Liah’ is released via Odium Records on 26th January 2021