Sometimes, hard work pays off. Nottingham’s Underdark have certainly been working hard since forming in November 2015, pushing hard to get gigs in the local area and beyond, and catching the eye of record labels as a result. Originally digitally self-released, their debut EP Mourning Cloak is now getting pressed on CD by Third I Rex and vinyl by Sell Your Soul Records, giving the band’s blackgaze further exposure. It’s not hard to see why the band have been finding such success so quickly, as theirs is a convincing, passionate strand of blackgaze, that does not forget the harsh black metal aspect of the subgenre, combining it well with more restrained moments of relative calm.
Of course, a Deafheaven comparison is impossible to avoid, and there’s no denying that it fits. But whereas that band stumbled with previous record New Bermuda, which lacked the intensity and flowing nature of Roads To Judah and Sunbather, Underdark do pretty much everything right. Most crucially of all, they do not come across as mere copycats, adding their own personality to a sound that has quickly gone from being new and groundbreaking to running the risk of stagnation. It’s telling that the band describe themselves as “black metal/post-hardcore/screamo” on their Bandcamp and Facebook pages, as the influence of bands like Envy and We Came Out Like Tigers can be heard, especially on closer ‘With Bruised And Bloodied Feet’. It’s also a much more aggressive record than is usual for this style, with opener ‘Bank Of Roses’ introducing harsh vocals right from the start, and it’s little more than a minute before pounding double bass drums start to proper the song along at pace. The closing movements of the song are much slower, adopting more post-rock, cathartic textures that are a core element of this style, though it’s here that Underdark most obviously echo their inspirations.
That’s cast aside with ‘Span Of Black Nihility’ though, which opens in a furious manner that isn’t far removed from second wave black metal, with frostbitten riffs and blasting drums, that subtly shifts in to more modern, post-black and USBM style territories. It’s here where Underdark really show their potential and strength, moving out from the shadows of better known bands in aggressive, full-blooded style. Even the “softer” parts of the song have an undercurrent of strength, and the consistently harsh vocals are very effective.
My only real complaint is that the three songs follow broadly the same structure, starting off harsh before moving towards a more gentle ending. It would be good to hear the band experimenting a bit more with song structures, but given that this is their debut release after barely a year as a band, it’s only a minor criticism. On the whole, Mourning Cloak shows that there is still life in blackgaze beyond Alcest and Deafheaven, and if Underdark can build on the promise shown here, there’s no reason they can’t become as big as those two bands. That they’re explicitly anti-NSBM is a plus too, and the lyrics have a certain poetry to them that carries their message without being crass about it.