Album: Managed Decline
Label: Church Road Records
Release date: 24 November
Sounds like: A ghost story, of sorts.
Blimey and I thought Burner were heavy.
Hailing from Nottingham, Underdark is a five-piece metal band that straddles the lines between post-rock, black metal, noise and even elements of the most scathing end of post-hardcore for good measure. Managed Decline is loosely, a concept album about the disastrous effects of Thatcherite Neoliberalism on a post-industrial town in the Midlands, the repercussions of these events, and the loss felt by those groups left with very little and ultimately the struggle, but with the glimpse of some hope at the end of the murky, corroded tunnel.
To say optimism on this record is in short supply would be understating it a little; Underdark addresses this, by pointing (or raising) several accusing fingers at the past and present Government of the UK, indicating that the clear facts that they (the Government), are not looking out for you, they are too busy, lying, cheating and climbing over the dead bodies to get to the top. Addressing these issues therefore, is something of a catharsis through the medium of music, and like many before them, Underdark embraces this with such force, venom and boiling, raging, unhinged malice, that it’s a brutal, refreshing and ultimately, a challenging burst of riotous sound to envelop yourself.
The slow, trudging build of Managed Decline I, drags itself into view, and from the initial 2 minutes, it’s full of unsettling trepidation. As the lonely, crunching build slowly begins to take shape, vocalist Abi, begins chewing away with this guttural scything scream that’s fucking terrifying. It falls somewhere along the lines of the barbed, caustic cough of Jacob Bannon in places, with the sneering, ferocious pulse of Svalbard‘s Serena Cherry. It’s a claustrophobic listening experience, with the guitars (which seem very high in the mix) consuming you with this relentless, pummelling death rattle. Thank goodness for the respite 6:40 minutes in, giving you a chance to breathe, as Abi’s fractured and devastating vocals take centre stage under the slow build of the drums before it roars full force back into this post-metal scrape of fist-in-the-air redemption.
There’s a feel of early Kvelertak on the wall of sound that makes up Employment – think the Norwegian sextet at their most mead-swigging, their most devil horns and their most guitar-worship. It treads familiar ground of that Scandinavian black metal scrape, with a bouncy, sea-shanty-esque flair. The next track, Matrimony, brings this suffocating wall of sound with it, throughout its nearly 8 minutes, ending with this groovy-sounding riff, which is a stark contrast to the cacophonic noise that preceded it.
The pallet cleanser lasts for all of 2 minutes in the form of Raised For A World That No Longer Exists and acts as a helpful bridge – what could be radio static/people chanting is soundtracked by this luscious guitar tone that wouldn’t look out of place on an Explosions In The Sky record – it’s all too brief though, and the feeling is, this could have been something expanded upon on.
Here comes the big guns though, and boy does it hurt. There’s a part in Enterprise, arguably one of the most abrasive and devastating songs on the album, that brings to mind the almost space-rock ambience of Hopesfall (see The Bending) which acts as a brief respite from the track’s uncompromisingly brutal assault. Forget what you’ve heard before, this is the one that will blow your mind – Abi’s vocals are devastatingly ragged and acidic, whilst the sonic attack from the bass, guitar and drums is a technical masterpiece in heavy songwriting.
The final track, Managed Decline II, feels a lot more optimistic, especially in the mighty closing minutes, which reminds me of the bombastic feel of any of the three tracks that begin Deafheaven’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, that huge, epic rocking triumphant blast of longing energy, the act of escapement, of venting all your frustrated energy through this oddly beautiful, almost hallowed and cathartic noise.
Make no mistake, Managed Decline is an uncompromising piece of work. Treading that ground between both defeat and victory through the harsh, bleak and oddly hopeful subject matter, Underdark has formed something that is unlike quite what you’ve heard before; it’s a striking, empowering and devastating record in equal measure.
Stream, purchase, and load up on cassettes with Underdark’s new album, Managed Decline via Bandcamp below. Go on, treat yourself.