April’s in. March is out. What happened? The return of one of the slowest, heaviest bands in the land, that’s what: UNDERSMILE. And if you’ve ever been within a mile or eleven of their nightmare doomcrawl, you’ll know that’s no exaggeration – last year I stood within a few feet when they supported Beehoover and felt utterly punished by the set’s end. Not exactly pleasurable, yet weirdly compelling … if torpid glacier is a pace you’re partial to. Either way, it was pretty damned cool to see them nab Nightshift’s front cover in March, and it’s an all-round good read so check it out – the band are funny and friendly (everything the music is not), there’s a new word for our vocabulary and you’ll find some highly impressive, though not remotely big-headed, namedrops of Billy Anderson, Dylan Carlson and Mr 2.13.61 himself, Henry Rollins. Why the Big Interview status? Oh yeah: Undersmile have got a new album looming. It’s called Anhedonia.
But you’ll find no review here coz it’s not out til a bit later in April so, as a warm up, let’s turn to 2013’s Wood and Wire. I’ll admit that I haven’t squared up to the Narwhal debut, mostly because I’ve been too scared, but this split album is shaping up to be a proper entry point to the world of Undersmile. For starters, it’s not just them – it’s a split album with Coma Wall, who are … Undersmile? Yes. In disguise. As ACOUSTIC BALLADEERS, faaaaa’ckinnelll!!!
Except there’s no b*ll*dry on show here, I made that bit up. Coma Wall are acoustic though, and the three tracks here – each of them 6 minutes plus – have the same addictive downer harmonies that recall Alice in Chains’ Sap EP, yet the low cello drone and slow-pick banjo on the standout track You Are My Death (it WILL stick in your head) turns the vibe dial to Rustic Americana. Love it. No wonder Dylan Carlson’s been sniffing around.
The flip to Coma Wall’s melancholic drift is Undersmile’s amplified hit: bog-slow and Dopesmoker-huge, the inyerface clarity is well removed from the stoner end of doom, not just because of the recording itself (co-produced by no less than Justin Greaves) but also because Undersmile don’t do that blues-based Sabbath-rooted derivative riffing thing. They don’t chug, not here at least, and they definitely don’t swing or groove. Undersmile pound and lurch, dragging things down with those moaning dead-souls-in-harmony vocals. Sure it’s monotonous on first listen but with extra reps, you find the spaces and the range. The Slint-like unease (Killer Bob), the Neurosis tension (Hives). And it grows, absolutely. Undersmile are no easy ride but one thing’s for sure – they stand apart in this heaviest of rock divisions, and Wood and Wire’s split format could be your way in. Did the job for me.
Digital download of Wood and Wire available at Shaman Recordings, it’s well cheap
Undersmile interview with Oxford’s Nightshift is in the March issue, page 4 of the PDF. Album review on page 5.
Last bit …
6Music went underground on March 21 when John Doran, editor of online sprawl The Quietus, guested on Maconie’s Freakier Zone for a 30-minute special on SUBTERRANEAN WORLDS. Not all of it’s essential but if you’re poking abut the iPlayer it’s worth checking for these two reasons: Lustmord’s ambient industrial menace, and the Butthole Surfers dementedness. Because you don’t really get this stuff on air very often, do you?
And that’s that. ‘til next time!