Under are a band from my old stomping grounds of Stockport in the Manchester area I originally heard their "First Attempt" EP early last year and i reviewed it HERE. Whilst it was a pretty great EP I did feel that maybe they were wearing their Melvins/Big Business influences a little too much on their sleeve so to speak, however this album is a different beast altogether.
I recently went to one of NOIZ Promotions gigs (Follow them on Facebook HERE if you live in the NW these guys put on THE BEST bills) headlined by Church of the Cosmic Skull but the added attraction was there were a shitload of other bands playing one of whom were Under whom i didn't even know were playing!!! Under took to the stage and were Immediately MIND BLOWING I could not for the life of me pin them down easily I said to Matt (bass/vocals) after their set that it had blown me away and described their set (much to his immense pleasure) as
"If I had a BAD nightmare about Prog Rock that would have been the soundtrack"
which would pretty much sum this band up!!!! However i am not gonna sell them that short....
Under's debut album "Slick", well, firstly the production is great I was shocked to discover it was done by their guitarist Simon Mayo at Spirit Studio Manchester and in his bedroom!!!. All the instruments cut through the mix perfectly and every nuance of the sound is captured the Bass has real punch and when the guitars need to be heavy or light they are the drums are crisp and clear and the whole sound is clean and nasty!!!!
It has to be said this is a challenging listen that's immediately apparent from the off whilst there's plenty of bottom end it is not the defining sound of this band this is not your usual heavy groove type of thing in fact opening instrumental "Mirth Of Crows" is quit jarring with it's stop start structure and what sounds to me like some late era Black Flag/Voivod-esque discordant guitar signatures and this discordant and off kilter sound and structuring sets the template for the majority of this album. This motif continues through opener proper "Innards" which has some truly mad vocal styles going on from sweet and kinda tuneful to parts that remind me of very early Queen (don't panic!!! just my opinion) to more straightforward style. Don't be put off by my use of the words "discordant" and "jarring" because whilst this album has a lot of that going on it's not detrimental to the music it is in fact the core of their massive sound "Tended Ones" is an absolutely crushing beast of a tune that veers seamlessly from a huge riff into the more off kilter riffing that reminds me a little of a cleaner sounding early SWANS. I am also really impressed with the vocals as well going from a kinda haunting "preach" to conveying anguish effortlessly but without becoming too brutal and the lyrics are discernible,which to my mind is a huge progression from the more Buzzo-esque tones of the debut EP. This album is definitely a mad journey through some truly warped minds here (at least musically speaking as they are very nice lads) the opening strumming on "Tip Creature" with it's whispered vocal is really nice before hitting you with a massive early SWANS meets Early Sabbath riff (no mean feat blending those two) and some quite prog vocals! I can't quite put my finger on it but when these guys blend their heaviness with the discordant riffing it puts me in mind of some of the very early post hardcore/pre stoner bands like Virulence (who later became Fu Manchu) and the first Sleep album (before they got REALLY stoned!) and of course Melvins VERY early stuff!!!
This album is not one that sits easily in the background whilst some of the quieter passages might do, the album never ceases to lose your attention as it constantly surprises, the sheer talent and chops on display here is immense take "Slump" for example the first near 2 minutes is an unholy yet somehow co-ordinated mess of offbeats and guitar that is just mental but it gives way to a MAMMOTH size riff before breaking down into a whirling squall of noise and that's only by the halfway point!!! Returning to the massive riff which is even more crushing second time round before breaking down into a quite eerie ending! Album closer "Below the Wreck" is the longest one on the album at 6 minutes building and building with some great mellow guitar signatures and some of the best vocals on the album but where most bands would build like this then hit you with an utter crusher riff these guys would be selling their sound short by using such an obvious tactic it's a build more in the vein of the truly classic "rock" bands where the temptation to just flatten with volume has been given a far more subtle edge and is far more satisfying for it and it's a fantastic end to what is a truly brilliant album.
I am SERIOUSLY impressed with Under as i stated at the beginning I sold them short with my Melvins comparisons on their debut EP these guys have obviously spent a lot of time perfecting their style and honing their sound till it's razor sharp I am gobsmacked by how completely unique and original this album is. The "heavy" scene in the NW has produced some great and original music over the last couple of years (take someone like Boss Keloid for example) but this band take the biscuit, melding early SWANS harshness with big riffs, progressive structuring, noise rock and some slight nods to their influences all in all on paper this should be an unlistenable mess but Under have put this together to bring an album that is like nothing else i have heard interesting, captivating and will bear countless rewards upon repeated listens, I have played it many times now and I still feel that I am only scratching the surface! In a scene where Riffs are king to bring out an album as different as this while using a "heavy" template and adding a stark edge is nothing short of a stroke of mad genius and I guarantee that even the most close minded of you cannot fail to absolutely love this album! I really hope that this becomes a big hit everywhere and not just a regional hit for both this great band an brilliant new label (APF records see below) This is an absolute blinder of an album lads!!!
L-R Andy Preece - Drums and Vocals, Simon Mayo - Guitar and Vocals, Matt Franklin - Bass and Vocals
Under Facebook - HERE
"Slick" Is out on 31st of May on APF Records
(I Urge you to go follow APF records it's the label of Andrew Field who not only has Under on his roster but also has an EP by Blind Haze and albums by Mastiff and BongCauldron coming out this year all 3 of which are HUGE NXNW favourites and this guy has been at every heavy gig i have been to in Manc and he KNOWS his stuff and deserves the support immensely!!!)
APF Records Facebook - HERE