It’s interesting to note that I actually speak more about post-hardcore, emo and screamo in this review than I do black metal, but it gives an idea of how this album sounds to me. The late 90s to mid 2000s era of post-hardcore has become shunned by many because of its associations with the scene kids that followed, and in metal circles particularly there is still a weird element of vitriol towards these bands.
Mainstream acts such as Thursday, Thrice, Funeral For A Friend and Senses Fail, as well as underground bands like Pageninetynine, Orchid and Swing Kids produced some truly incredible music, and I’m so pleased that bands like Underdark are now deciding not to shun this influence anymore. Instead, they’re taking the sonic inspiration of this era to a whole other level by completely meshing it with black metal until the two sounds become almost inseparable.
As much as the ‘e’ word might be considered embarrassing now, Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry is definitely inspired by the genre, sounding to my ears like a perfect blend of Thursday, Pageninetynine, Wolves In The Throne Room and Deafheaven. I say that in the best way possible because these are some of my favourite bands of all time, but it is good to note that Underdark mix these sounds in a way which loses little of the darkness, or heaviness, of modern black metal.
Formed in 2015, the five piece from Nottingham, consisting of guitarists Ollie and Adam, vocalist Abi, drummer Dan and bassists Stephen, have only produced a handful of tracks so far across splits, singles and EPs, but with their debut album they have come flying forth with a huge statement on intent.
The record begins with the emotional guitar arpeggios and spoken word of Qeres, before suddenly bursting to life with a cataclysmic rush of distorted chords and throat shredding screams. It builds and builds before transforming into a Deafheaven-esque sequence of melancholic tremolo riffs and furious blast beats. The low guttural vocals that appear around half-way through are an unexpected element, and one that rather excellently appears throughout the album. Even more surprising is how this leads us into a full on Incantation style death metal section, before we then head into a sumptuous post-hardcore/black metal hybrid for the final third.
The title track, Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry, opens up with blast beats underscoring a classic turn of the century emo guitar melody, the kind that brings to mind iconic bands like From First To Last and Saosin. The band work their way around this riff with the vocals twisting and turning in every direction and take us into a section of thundering melodeath, before returning to the opening melody. Eventually everything falls quiet, and a new chord progression of pure melancholy begins before the vocals return in that half screamed, half spoken form that the 90s screamo bands perfected. Everything builds into a huge cacophony that explodes into a ferocious final section of grim black metal.
depressive atmosphere with heavy riffs and striking melodies that seem to crash around in a controlled chaos…
Coyotes begins with a quite similar sounding chord progression to the title track, with some spacey atmospheric synths droning in the background before the bass and drums enter to begin construction. There’s a sudden burst and the song turns into a Svalbard style mesh of melody and distortion that segues through different phases of rhythmic and melancholic intensity.
With Ashen Hands Around Our Throats begins in a manner that instantly takes me back to the darkest moments of Portraits Of Past or Saetia. The track continues to blend this depressive atmosphere with heavy riffs and striking melodies that seem to crash around in a controlled chaos. The track breaks down into a Thursday-esque clean section of layered arpeggios and despairing vocals before erupting with pure emotion into a beautiful finale.
The album closes with Skeleton Queen, which follows with what are by now very familiar melodies and chord progressions. There’s some interesting rhythmic changes and tempo turns as the track progresses but, somewhat ironically, it’s actually when the track quietens down that it really comes to life. The clean guitars begin but are soon joined by a voice of despair, fear and anger all wrapped into one, performing a deeply affecting set of lyrics about substance abuse and depression. It’s the kind of section anyone who has listened to classic screamo may be familiar with, but I rarely hear it done in heavy music anymore, and certainly not with lyrics this stark and powerful.
It’s brutal and honest nature makes it one of the stand-out moments of the album, and one I could listen to again and again. Afterwards the track bursts into a final emotive flourish of instrumentation, while the vocals seem to reach a point of pure catharsis as they wretch and cry at the top of their lungs.
Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry isn’t quite perfect, but it is absolutely stunning, and I struggle to think of many records since Sunbather that have the potential to completely change the black metal landscape. The screamo inspired performances of raw emotion and astonishing melancholy are combined perfectly with black metal’s frenzied speed and epic aggression.
This album is something special, and for all my talk of genres that most black metal fans wouldn’t go near, I hope this album does manage to speak to an audience of metal and post-hardcore fans alike. Regardless of the nuances of the styles it blends, this album should stand as one of the great examples of how black metal can begin to tread new ground.
Scribed by: Will J