Undersmile are one of the UK’s brightest hopes in the doom scene. Having bulldozed everyone with their stunning debut, Narwhal, the band are now unleashing their 70+ minute opus Anhedonia, to an eager public. Anhedonia is proving to be a much more experimental force than Narwhal was, trading up savage distortion for haunting acoustics.
Opening with the looming thunder of Labyrinths, which rumbles through a ghostly acoustic start into a hypnotic looping dirge of clean guitars and haunting vocals, it’s a strange feeling to someone so used to crushing doom expectations. But what Undersmile are doing here is building the anticipation for what is to come. When the track starts to plunge into heavier depths, the clean vocals stay and that just accentuates the bottom heavy density of the riff. Then the floor caves in and you fall into the void.
The melancholic acoustics bring to mind Cult of Luna’s superlative Somewhere Along The Highway, and there is a rather bare, naked vulnerability to the album that yet gives nothing away. Sky Burial is full of tar thick riffs, eerily echoing vocals and some delicate clean guitar moments. It’s refreshing to hear doom that has dynamics, not just relying on simply crushing guitar. Music that explores the shades of grey between the black and the white is always more interesting, and Undersmile don’t rely on being a one riff pony.
They also don’t fall into the trap of trying too much with their music and being left behind. Each song is a journey, a pleasure odyssey though the mind, replete with calming rests of troubled silence, to a crashing of dissonant riffs. It’s kinda hard to explain in parts, as each song is affecting in its own way. The ghostly Song Of Stones is my own particular favourite track, although is it pushed close by the staggering melancholic beauty of Aeris but to be honest the album works well as a whole piece, be it with stabbing riffs of heaviness or the tranquillity of the clean guitars. There is definitely an atmosphere of misery, of bleakness that permeates every note that is played. It isn’t depressing though, it almost seems more wistful. A desire for what was. For what could have been.
Anhedonia is a wonderfully crafted album of ‘doom but not as we know it’ metal. The mood and the heavier moments scream classic doom, while the softer moments add subtle layers. Undersmile are a band that have tapped into something rather special, and Anhedonia is a towering piece of a legacy that will stand for a long time. When they’re heavy, Undersmile are very heavy (check out the Paradise Lost-esque opening riffs of Atacama Sunrise or the crushing nihilism of Emmenagogue), but their true worth lies in the impressive grasp of dynamics. Even in their quieter moments, Undersmile are more doom than most.
Scribed by: Sandy Williamson