The Wheatsheaf, Oxford, May 9 2015
Is this going to be Undersmile‘s big year? Already they’ve done the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands, and new record Anhedonia has gone top of the Terrorizer charts by bagging its Album of the Month accolade in the current issue. This, surely, is Big News, and with rumours flying that tonight may well be their only Oxford gig of 2015, there’s a feelgood homecoming buzz about the Wheatsheaf. Lotta smiles, lotta chatter.
But before Witney’s super-strength export close this Buried in Smoke event, we’ve got a support set from Essex troupe Earthmass – and with a name like that you just gotta deliver, right? But before we can find out, singer/guitarist Chris Houghton makes for the mic for a quick word.
“I know you metallers are a sentimental lot so I just wanted to say that … well, my nan died yesterday.”
Oh … bummer. ‘sheaf crowd twitches. Not sure what to do with this information.
“So this is for her. She never actually heard us play, which is probably for the best. It would have fucking killed her.”
And once first track Awake/Crisis cruises from sparse intro to bruised-up pounding, you know he’s right coz Earthmass do spacious post-metal the Isis way: clean bits, raging bits, gut-growling downtuned crunch, mebbe even a scrape of Tool’s discordant prog spook. Very nice, Earthmass chaps. Very nice indeed. Looking forward to giving that Collapse CD some heavy rotation.
But if mid-tempo riffage is just TOO DAMNED FAST for your slothmetal tastes, and instrumental breaks just TOO DAMNED CHEERFUL for your subterranean nightmare vision then you can always always always turn to
u n d e r s m i l e .
Yeah. The pace stops here and when they step up, they say nothing. Not. A. Word. All those pre-gig smiles and chit-chat are long gone when Hel and Taz, white dresses catching spectral light, take centre stage side by side and the band prepare to unfurl Sky Burial: haunting, drowning, none heavier. Probably. Atacama Sunburn, possibly tonight’s peak ‘mare centrepiece, showcases the extremes of their expanding sound as delicate post-rock quiet makes way for scream-in horror harmonies from the depths of the grim. Fearsomely intense, Undersmile utterly inhabits its own world, locked in while we look on like cult metal Stockholm Syndrome captives. As one punter puts it on the way out, ‘There’s no-one like ’em. They’re in a field of one.’
Second that. An acquired taste yes, but no-one – and that means, no-one – does doom quite like Undersmile.
Anhedonia by Undersmile and Collision by Earthmass, out now.
More Oxford gigs and stuff at Buried in Smoke