Earlier this month, Nottingham’s Bismuth and Oxford’s Undersmile – “two of the UK’s heavyweights in female fronted doom and sludge” – digitally released a two track split. It is a record that does not disappoint.
Bismuth are Joe Rawlings on drums, and Tanya Byrne on bass and vocals. Their track, ‘Collapse’ offers listeners sixteen minutes of the musical equivalent of dragging yourself step after stumbling step through a sucking, midnight mire, guided – or perhaps haunted – only by Byrne’s screams and spectral half-whispers. You do make it though in the end but it’s impossible to tell exactly where you’ve found yourself in that seventeenth minute, or indeed if you’ll ever be the same again.
Rawlings’ drums pound along heavily; glacial and unrelenting. Byrne splits her signal between several amps at once, pushing the gain and feedback as close to breaking point as possible. The result is a gigantic, gritty slab of sound, far larger and more complex than you might dream possible from a two-piece. ‘Collapse’ is gnarled and gargantuan, yet eerily, fragile in its final moments, showing that Bismuth have more to offer than mere brute force.
Quartet Undermile comprise of Taz Corona-Brown on vocals and guitar, Hel Sterne on vocals and lead guitar, Olly Corona-Brown on bass, and Tom McKibbin on drums. Their twenty-three minute contribution to the split turns out to be named after an extinct fifty foot long, one hundred and seventy five stone genus of prehistoric snake – the titanaboa. The name proves more than appropriate because, despite its undeniable heaviness, ‘Titanaboa’ retains a sultry, serpentine slyness throughout.
The track begins with the drone of an Indian tambura, all but immediately enshrouded by a chorus of sustained, harmonic amp-whine. Undersmile’s sound is a mesmeric strata of doomy riffs, feedback and resonant ambience with Taz and Hel’s mantric dual-vocals drawing the listener in deeper, and deeper, and deeper. With good old-fashioned soft and slight/hard and heavy dynamics taken to the Nth degree, ‘Titanaboa’ slithers with inscrutable, serpent-eyed, purpose, only waiting for the right moment to enfold you in its colossal coils.
In some respects the two sides of the split could not be more different but there’s a certain undeniable verisimilitude between them; something you can’t quite put your finger on that makes this feel more than just two tracks which happen to have been chucked together. Much like the landscapes of the Antarctic and Saharan deserts, although ‘Collapse’ and ‘Titanaboa’ may appear radically different at first glance, they are in fact equally awe-inspiring, and unwelcoming.
Scribed by: John Reppion