Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve been trying to get this one on the page for a couple weeks now — really since last year if you want to go back that far — and I finally just decided to do it. Granted, it’s already 2014, but I’m pretty used to being behind the times, so I hope you’ll indulge me on this one.
The thing is, of course we already did the Top 20 Albums of 2013, but that leaves an awful lot out in terms of quality shorter releases. Demos, singles, EPs, splits — whatever it might be — there’s a lot more to the story of a year in music than who’s putting out what full-length. That might be true now more than ever, with digital releases and artists having the ability to more or less give a song-by-song feed of new material should they so choose. Since this is the first time I’ve done this list, I’ve kept the presentation pretty basic, but there’s a lot to dig into here anyway in terms of the quality of the music and what people were able to accomplish in, in some cases, just one or two tracks.
My basis for judgment here is basically the same as with the full-albums list, and by that I mean how much I listened to something played a huge role, and it’s not just how important I think an EP or a split or a demo was that got it included on this list — though of course that stuff matters as well. Like spelling, repeat listens count. And it goes without saying these are my picks and have nothing to do with the Readers Poll, the results of which are here.
Okay, let’s do this:
The Top 20 Short Releases of 2013
1. The Machine/Sungrazer, Split
2. Dozer, Vultures
3. Mars Red Sky, Be My Guide
4. Black Thai, Seasons of Might
5. Wo Fat/Egypt, Cyclopean Riffs Split 12″
6. Young Hunter, Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain
7. Shroud Eater, Dead Ends
8. Steak, Corned Beef Colossus
9. Geezer, Gage
10. The Golden Grass, One More Time b/w Tornado 7″
11. Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Underground
12. King Buffalo, Demo
13. Groan, Ride the Snake
14. Crypt Sermon, Demo MMXIII
15. Stubb, Under a Spell b/w Bullets Rain 7″
16. Salem’s Pot, Watch Me Kill You Tape
17. Undersmile/Coma Wall, Wood and Wire Split
18. Second Grave, Antithesis
19. Sinister Haze, Demo
20. Olde Growth, Owl
Honorable mention has to go to the Fatso Jetson/Yawning Man split, C.O.C.‘s MegalodonEP, which was right on but which I didn’t really hear enough to include. The Gates of Slumber‘s Stormcrow as well.
Just a couple notes: In the case of Olde Growth, putting them last was actually more about not being sure when the official release date of Owlwas than anything else. I actually listened to that quite a bit, and “Tears of Blood” remains my favorite work of the duo’s to date. In terms of demos, it was a good year for doom debuts, with Crypt Sermon and Sinister Haze both showing some malevolent classicism, and King Buffalo‘s demo grew on me almost immediately upon hearing it and right away made me look forward to whatever might come next from them.
I was a little hesitant to put a split in the number one spot, but The Machine‘s riff for “Awe” alone made it necessary. I’ve kept this disc on my person for almost the entire year and continue to have no regrets in doing so. For Dozer, yeah, it was a collection of older material, but I still enjoyed the crap out of it. Both Mars Red Sky and Black Thai signaled considerable creative growth in four-song EPs, and the Wo Fat and Egypt split more than lived up to its mission. The riff lives in bands like that, and as we get further into stylistic nuance and subgenre development, it’s those groups who are holding on to the Heavy.
Young Hunter are one of the most promising bands I’ve heard in the last three years. Flat out. Killer release. Ditto that in a much different context for Shroud Eater, whose take on heavy only got more sinister and more effective with Dead Ends. Steak emerge as tops among the five British bands — a quarter of the list! — here. Their Corned Beef Colossus also had the best title I heard all year, and though Trippy Wicked, Groan, Stubb, and Undersmile/Coma Wall (the latter earning bonus points for putting out a split with themselves) all thrilled, Steak‘s potential got them that spot. Time for a full-length, guys.
Not to leave out New York — though the geographical alignment is a coincidence — Geezer‘s Gagetapped into a jammier feel that I thought suited the band remarkably well, and The Golden Grass‘ debut single offered one of the most charming irony-free good times I’ve heard in a long while. The Salem’s Pot cassette was one of my most-listened-to tapes this year, last mentioned but not at all least, Second Grave‘s Antithesisprobably would’ve clocked in higher if I’d had more time with it, but was definitely one I wanted to put in here anyway.
As I said, a lot of really astounding shorter outings, and worthy of attention in their own right. If I missed anything, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
As far as I’m concerned, this one gets a twofold fucking a: It exists and you can hear it now. Disgruntled sludgers Bismuth and drone-minded nightmare-conjurers Undersmile have partnered, each with a vinyl side of their own brand of sonic madness. Put some Tony Roberts art on it, press it to tape and LP, and you’re good to go. Tartarus Records has the beast available for preorder and that’s great, but what’s even better is being able to listen to its low end drag before you make your purchase.
This is the first I’m hearing of Bismuth and it’s pretty clear from “Collapse” that I need to go back and check out their 2012 Eternal Marshesdemo. For Undersmile, they follow-up the split with their acoustic alter ego, Coma Wall, with a 23-minute behemoth of a track as tonally huge as it is melodically disturbed. It’s not easy listening, but I dig the challenge.
Preorder link, Tony Roberts artwork and the standard Bandcamp player follow, hot off of the PR wire:
TAR023 Bismuth / Undersmile split
Amp worship meets agonizing doom. Finally a split release between two of UK’s heavyweights in female fronted doom and sludge. Bismuth from Nottingham offer Collapse, a worthy follow-up to the Eternal Marshes demo tape, released last year. More bleak drone landscapes and torturous vocals by Tanya. Undersmile from Witney chose for an atmospheric approach on their side of the split and came up with Titanaboa; a dark, nightmarish beast of a track. Truly their best offering so far. The artwork was made by the amazing Tony Roberts, which fits perfectly with both bands.
FFO: Khanate, Corrupted, Bell Witch, Ensorcelor.
The LP is a co-release between Graanrepubliek Records, Tartarus Records and At War With False Noise
With a limited CD version of their Wood and Wire split with acoustic alter ego project Coma Wall forthcoming, morose UK doomers Undersmile have released a new video for the track “Soil” from the release. Wood and Wire (track premiere here) came out on Shaman Recordings earlier this year and the CD will be released by Future Noise with Coma Wall reinterpreting the Undersmile track “Big Wow.”
No word yet on preorders for the CD version, but check out the “Soil” clip below directed by M. Arthur Wickson and the PR wire info that follows:
Undersmile, “Soil” official video
UNDERSMILE Premier New Video For The Track ‘Soil’ On The Sleeping Shaman
UNDERSMILE and director M. Arthur Wickson are very happy to present the music video for the song “Soil” taken from the band’s recent split EP ‘Wood & Wire’, released on beautiful transparent purple 12” vinyl by Shaman Recordings.
The video was filmed in the spring of 2013 at various locations, but primarily in and around Shaken Oak Farm where the band recorded their half of the split with acoustic alter-egos COMA WALL. Directed and edited by M. Arthur Wickson (who also produced the band’s previous music video for “Milk”), the “Soil” video attempts to capture more of the band’s live energy – apt for a song that has recently become a staple of their live set. Check out the premierover on The Sleeping Shaman.
In other news, UNDERSMILE are also extremely pleased to announce that a limited edition CD of ‘Wood & Wire‘ is to be released in June/July on Future Noise Recordings, the label which also released last year’s ‘Narwhal‘. The CD will feature an exclusive bonus track in the form of COMA WALL’s take on UNDERSMILE’s “Big Wow,” as well as more artwork (the original concept sketches) from the talented Craig Bryant. Pre-orders will be available soon via Future Noise Recordings.
The CD tracklisting is: 1. Coma Wall – Summer 2. Coma Wall – You Are My Death 3. Coma Wall – Big Wow (bonus track) 4. Coma Wall – Cutter’s Choice 5. Undersmile – Soil 6. Undersmile – Killer Bob 7. Undersmile – Hives
UNDERSMILE and COMA WALL only have a handful of live dates left in 2013 as both bands will be taking a break, with UNDERSMILE soon to be recording a song for a 12” split with Nottingham’s titanic duo Bismuth and COMA WALL beginning to make plans for their next release. Their upcoming dates are as follows:
1st June – Gullivers in Manchester – Undersmile with Ishmael, Grimpen Mire and Bastard of the Skies *this may be Ishmael’s last ever gig 29th June – Summer Sizzler all-dayer @ the Windmill, Brixton – Undersmile & Coma Wall will be performing with a great line-up of other bands *Undersmile’s final gig of the year 21st July – The Racehorse, Northampton – Coma Wall with M E R R I N and Nick Hudson – a night of music and improvised video 9th – 11th August – SUPERNORMAL FESTIVAL @ Brazier’s Park, Oxford – Coma Wall.
‘Wood & Wire’ will be available on vinyl at all of the above dates, and the CD will hopefully be available from the Summer Sizzler onwards.
Posted in audiObelisk on February 19th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Any band can put out a split with another band. Far rarer are those who can release a split with themselves. Due out for release shortly on a limited-to-500 pressing of purple vinyl, the full-length Wood and Wire split on Shaman Recordings unites British nautical doomers Undersmile with their unplugged alter ego, Coma Wall. As much as two bands featuring an identical lineup can be “united,” that is. Since they’re already the same people? Ah, never mind. You get the point.
The point is that by bringing together Coma Wall with Undersmile, the four-piece proves once again to be able to affect as much heaviness atmospherically as they do tonally. The ambience and emotional heft of Coma Wall‘s material flows naturally and engagingly into that of Undersmile – each band is given three tracks of a vinyl side — and the acoustic setting only provides more room for guitarists Taz Corona-Brown and Hel Sterne to branch out melodically and harmonically with their vocals. Cuts like “You are My Death” and opener “Summer” offer Cantrell/Staley-esque vocal interplay, and while the same could be said of Undersmile‘s previous album, Narwhal(review here), the context is different enough on Wood and Wire to highlight their performances.
And where Undersmile stretched suitably oceanic on Narwhal, the Wood and Wiresplit finds them somewhat more compressed, time-wise. Nonetheless, they make the three tracks feel as massive and tidal as one might expect. Recorded by Justin Greaves (Crippled Black Phoenix, Iron Monkey, etc.), “Soil,” “Killer Bob” and “Hives” are no less melodically-centered than did Coma Wall‘s contributions, but come on unremittingly heavy, pushed forward at a distinct drag by bassist Olly Corona-Brown and drummer Tom McKibbin. The Witney unit(s) recently premiered Coma Wall‘s “Summer” and today I have the pleasure of hosting the debut of “Killer Bob” from Undersmile‘s side of Wood and Wire. Please find it on the player below, and enjoy:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
The first audio has surfaced from the new Wood and Wall split between UK nautical doomers Undersmile and their acoustic alter ego, Coma Wall. The Sleeping Shaman has a track stream at the link below where you can hear the debut audio from Coma Wall, who nestle right into Alice in Chains harmonies like they were so much warm water.
Pre-orders for the split are available now as well, and rumor has it there’s yet to come a glimpse at Undersmile‘s portion of the release on this very page sometime soon. Worth keeping an eye out:
COMA WALL / UNDERSMILE ‘Wood & Wire’ – Exclusive Stream, Artwork Revealed & Pre-Orders Now Available!
The anticipation is nearly over as today, The Sleeping Shaman, streams an exclusive track taken from the up and coming COMA WALL & UNDERSMILE 12” simply entitled ‘Wood & Wire’, the track ‘Summer’ is taken from the COMA WALL side and can be streamedAT THIS LOCATION.
Shaman Recordings also announced that Pre-Orders started today and besides the 12”, there’s the option to bundle in a T-Shirt with the COMA WALL / UNDERSMILE ‘Wood & Wire’ logo emblazoned on the front, more information and orders can be placed on theShaman Recordings website HERE.
And finally, the artwork has also been revealed today which was lovingly crafted by up and coming illustrator Craig Bryant and you can check it out in all its technicolor glory below.
‘Wood & Wire’ brings together Oxford’s monolithic Undersmile and their acoustic alter-ego Coma Wall on one release.
Although this is Coma Wall’s debut release, they’ve already gained fans after playing sets at Desertfest 2012 and supporting Dylan Carlson (of Earth) on his first ever solo show. This recording sees the band laid bare – no amps, no fuzz boxes, just acoustic guitars, percussion and a banjo that showcases their own brand of Dark Americana and Doom-Folk in the spirit of the MTV Unplugged sessions.
On the other hand Undersmile, having been endorsed by the likes of Earth’s Dylan Carlson and Henry Rollins of Black Flag, are both engaging and crushing, blending numerous influences from Swans to Babes in Toyland to arrive at a genuinely fresh, cohesive, and brutal sound. Their debut album ‘Narwhal’, released last year by Future Noise Recordings, was met with huge praise from both fans and press alike. For these tracks, the band enlisted the help of Justin Greaves (Iron Monkey, Electric Wizard, Crippled Black Phoenix) to oversee the engineering and his contribution to the recording process helped to further display Undersmile’s diversity and musical growth, as well as their desire to capture a warmer, more ‘live’ sound.
Mastering for both recordings was once again handled by Billy Anderson (Sleep, Neurosis, Melvins) and the amazing artwork was handled by up and coming Illustrator Craig Bryant (www.behance.net/craigbryant).
‘Wood & Wire’ Track listing
Coma Wall A1. Summer A2. You Are My Death A3. Cutter’s Choice
Whatever medium you enjoy music through, LPs, CDs, digital, tapes, reel-to-reel, Edison cylinders, the fact of the matter is that artwork — the visual representation of the album — makes a huge difference in the overall impression a record makes. There are bands who slave away for months negotiating fine details with artists and there are bands who snap a picture of themselves and throw it out front on their way to grab their next beer. Both methods have yielded classic results.
As 2012 winds down, I thought it might be fun to go back to the start of the year and take a look at some of the best album art that accompanied some killer albums. This isn’t the Best Albums list, just some of what I think is the Best Art. I’ll try my best to keep my reasons short as we go along alphabetically:
Alcest, Les Voyages de l’Âme
The sort of gloomy lushness that artist Fursy Teyssier brought to the cover for Alcest‘s Les Voyages de l’Âme was breathtaking from the first glance. Teyssier (also of Les Discrets; interview here) wonderfully captured the morose beauty in Alcest‘s music and painted a masterpiece that transcended “rock art” as much as the album itself transcended black metal or any other genre in which one might try to pigeonhole it.
The sentinel that has now graced the cover of the last couple Conan releases has mirrored the British act’s ascent in joining the ranks of great heavy metal mascots. Tony Roberts, who drew the piece on the cover of Monnos, has become an essential part of the band’s mythology, meeting their ultra-crushing tonality with visuals that seem to work in atmospheres no less oppressively brutal. If art was ever heavy, it was heavy here.
A pretty simple idea, but wonderfully executed, the front of Portland neo-traditionalists Doomsower‘s debut EP, 1974, came from an EPA photo documentary project that took place the same year. I picked it for this list not because it was so intricate or anything like that, but proof that sometimes something that seems basic can also be just right for the songs — the rails parallel, but joining, seeming to indicate Doomsower‘s journey undertaken.
Electric Moon, The Doomsday Machine
The question wasn’t so much would there be an Electric Moon cover on this list, but which one? The prolific German heavy psych jammers have a cache of treasure in the work of bassist Komet Lulu, and when it came time to choose from among the several recordings the band released in 2012, The Doomsday Machine stood out as a departure from the bright colors and classic psychedelia, being a painting by Lulu‘s father, Ulla Papel. Here’s to genetics.
Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
Having also handled Groan‘s split with Finnish trad doomers Vinum Sabbatum, W. Ralph Walters outdid himself with Groan‘s full-length follow-up, The Divine Right of Kings. With strong References to Hieronymus Bosch‘s vision of hell, Walters visualized the band’s move into classic metal and mixed it with manic get-stoned-and-stare kitchen-sinkery much as Groan continued to consort with brash heavy rock and doom. Walters‘ work on Blue Aside‘s The Moles of a Dying Race was no less distinct an achievement.
Larman Clamor, Frogs
Aside from thinking frogs are awesome in general, I was stoked to see how incredibly well Alexander von Wieding‘s art for his band Larman Clamor‘s 2012 offering fit the music. Otherworldly, darkly psychedelic and caked in haze, the dead stare of the frankenfrog on the front of Frogs perfectly matched von Wieding‘s swampy, bluesy style and looked even better on vinyl. Having also contributed to records by Lord Fowl, Wo Fat, Cortez and others this year, von Wieding has made himself one of the most essential heavy rock artists the world over.
Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
Were it not for the discussion about the process of putting it together in the interview I did with Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till at the end of October, Josh Graham‘s cover for Honor Found in Decay — especially being so similar in idea to his work on Soundgarden‘s King Animal — probably wouldn’t have made this list, but knowing the level of construction that went into making the piece, from painting the jawbones to using artifact arrowheads from Slovakia, I couldn’t help but see it in a different light. Graham‘s ended his association with Neurosis, but if this is how he went out, they couldn’t have asked for more.
I had spent some serious time with Summoner‘s Phoenix by then, had been in talks with the band about releasing it on The Maple Forum, but it wasn’t until I held the LP in my hands at SHoD and really saw the Alyssa Maucere cover in-person that I realized what I was looking at. And once you see it, it’s not really subtle at all. Get it yet? There’s a cock and balls on the right side. I gotta give it to the Boston outfit and to Maucere for sneaking and yet not at all sneaking that one in there. Hey, if you don’t appreciate some phallic humor every now and again, you’re probably not going to start a website called The Obelisk.
Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum & Oro: Opus Alter
Is it cheating to include both covers from Ufomammut‘s Oro two-album series? Probably. Do I give a shit? Not in the slightest, because the Italian collective — who for visual purposes go by the name Malleus — tapped into new territory of psych art with the pieces for Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter, manifesting the idea of “psychedelic metal” in the actual style and inks used, while also contrasting dark and light and conveying the permanent nature of gold itself and the notions of hypnotic ritual that show up in their music. These covers were proof that Ufomammut are more than just the masters of their sound.
Another Tony Roberts creation, but in a completely different style from Conan‘s Monnos above, the bleak cover of UK nautical doomers Undersmile‘s 80-minute debut LP Narwhal seemed to embody everything the band had to offer on the album. It was dark, with hard drawn structural lines, but also sprawling, encompassing every panel of the digipak and running into the liner much as Undersmile‘s oceanic themes ran into every minute of the music, crushingly heavy or minimalist and ambient. Less about the titular creature within and more about the sea itself, it conveyed an utter hopelessness and the smallness of humanity when set against something so massive as the sea.
There were plenty more I could’ve included here — records from High on Fire, Om, Graveyard, Wight, Caltrop, Ancestors, Samothrace, Vulture and several others all are worthy of honorable mention, but for one reason or another, these were the standouts to me and I hope you agree that even in this go-ahead-and-download-it age of immediate convenience, the visual art remains pivotal to an album experience.
Someone you think got left out? If you’ve got any suggestions to add, agreements or disagreements, I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments, so please, have at it.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 15th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Kudos to British doomly upstarts Undersmile and to Serpent Venom as well. Both bands were announced as additions to the Hammerfest set to take place next year in North Wales. To put that to scale, Saint Vitus and Killing Joke have also been tapped for the Metal Hammer-sponsored event, and the likes of Candlemass and Enslaved were already on the bill, so, you know, not exactly small potatoes.
Future Noise Booking sent notice down the PR wire of good stuff happening to good bands:
We’re ecstatic to announce that Undersmile & Serpent Venom, 2 bands which feature on Future Noise booking roster, have been added to Hammerfest 2013 which takes place at Haven Hafan y Môr Holiday Park, Pwllheli, Gwynedd, North Wales on the weekend of the 14th/15th/16th March 2013.
The recent announcement also included confirmation of Killing Joke to headline the Friday while Doom legends Saint Vitus were also confirmed to play.
Hammerfest talent booker Seven Webster says… “To have both Killing Joke and Saint Vitus join our bill is a personal career highlight for me, as I have followed Killing Joke since their inception, and they have never failed to impress To also have Saint Vitus play Hammerfest, who are an act we have always wanted to have grace the stage the cake on what I believe is one of our best line-ups to date.”
With only 47 rooms left at the time the original announcement was made, we suggest you get your tickets now, more info and the full line up can be found atwww.hammerfest.co.uk or you can call the ticket hotline on 08700 110034.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 6th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Yeah, this one makes sense. Shaman Recordings, the label incarnation of much-respected UK heavy blog The Sleeping Shaman, have picked up nautical UK doomers Undersmile. The band hinted in their recent interview here that they had an acoustic side-project in the works, and it seems that Shaman Recordings will release that as well. Undersmile and their unplugged incarnation ComaWall will issue a split 12″ vinyl this coming February.
Kudos to the band and right on to the label as well. Seems everybody wins, especially those who pick up the forthcoming and cleverly-titled Wood and Wirerelease:
UNDERSMILE & Their Acoustic Alter-Ego COMA WALL Sign To Shaman Recordings; Limited 12” Vinyl Set For Release During Feb 2013
Shaman Recordings are proud to announce their second release; Wood and Wire, a “self-split” between Oxford’s mighty drone/doom/sludge-bringers UNDERSMILE and their acoustic alter-ego COMA WALL. That’s one side of Americana-influenced, atmospheric doom-folk and one side of Undersmile’s characteristic, monolithic heaviness.
Following on from their debut EP A Sea of Dead Snakes, the Undertaker split (w/Caretaker) and their critically acclaimed debut album Narwhal, Wood and Wire marks the bands’ first foray onto vinyl and they have produced a record that reflects their diversity as a band and hints at what’s to come, for both incarnations.
Having played acoustic sets at the inaugural DesertFest and in support of Dylan Carlson (Earth)COMA WALL is the name UNDERSMILE have given to their acoustic project as a way to separate the two disparate but interlinked sides of their musical personality (highlighted by Coma Wall’s acoustic take on Undersmile’s “Cutter’s Choice”). Their contribution to this record is a taster for a future COMA WALL record.
Wood and Wire‘s acoustic side features production work from the band’s previous producers Jimmy “Evil” Hetherington (A Sea of Dead Snakes, Narwhal) and Umair Chaudhry (Undertaker split) while side B is produced by Justin Greaves (of Iron Monkey, Crippled Black Phoenix, Electric Wizard, Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine). Featuring three songs on either side, this is Undersmile as you’ve never heard them before.
The incredible artwork has been created by Craig Bryant (of Bast) whose work has previously been featured on posters for the likes of Dylan Carlson, Eagle Twin, Pombagira, Lattitudes and many more.
This slab o’wax is scheduled for release during February 2013 via Shaman Recordings and will be strictly limited to 300 copies on transparent purple vinyl with digital download card.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 25th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
For the last couple months, we’ve followed the unfolding tale of Doommantia.com’s founder, Ed Barnard, who suffered a heart attack at the end of July and has since been left homeless. Donations have been taken over at their site, and hopefully wherever you are or whatever your situation, you’ve had a chance to give and support Ed in these tough times. On Oct. 13, the Doommantia Bash benefit show was held in his honor and by all accounts I’ve seen, that was a success, but there’s more to be done.
Word went out yesterday of the Doommantia Vol. 1digital compilation being available. Put together and organized by the band Compel, it’s $7 on Bandcamp and there are an astounding 39 bands included. Ed‘s special lady, Sally Doomvixen, posted the news last night that Ed was back in the hospital overnight with chest pains again, and though the situation doesn’t seem as serious as last time, the bills are no less devastating.
So you haven’t taken time yet to help out Ed Barnard, I once more urge you to do so, and this time, you get over four hours’ worth of music in return from great bands. More info follows, courtesy of Doommantia:
The DOOMMANTIA Benefit Compilation Has Arrived, 39 Tracks, Over 4 Hours For Only $7…
The first ever Doommantia.Com Compilation is now available for download for only $7 fromBANDCAMP. Immediate download of no less than 39 tracks of doomy goodness, over 4 hours long. Bands featured are Blackwolfgoat, At Devil Dirt, Low Gravity, Ichabod, Fister, Undersmile, Compel, Iron Man, Wizard’s Beard, Oceans Rainbow, Beelzefuzz, Conan, Lazarus Complex, Spyderbone, Order Of The Owl, Dope Flood, War Injun, Heathen Bastard, Halmos, Kriz, Bongripper, Demonaut, In The Company Of Serpents, Switchblade Jesus, Pale Divine, When The Deadbolt Breaks, Bastards Of The Skies, Gorgantherron, Screaming Mad Dee and Alex Vanderzeeuw, Chowder, War Iron, Hollow Leg, Crawl, Desolation, Ketea, Sludgethrone, Vulture, Wolfpussy and The Departure. That is some bang for your buck!!!
All proceeds go to the Ed Barnard homeless fund so it is a very worthy cause. Thanks to all the bands involved and to Tim Davis who worked so hard putting all of this together. Head toBANDCAMPnow to get your download.
Formed in 2009 by guitarist/vocalists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown, darkened sludge four-piece Undersmile make their most thoroughly doomed impression yet with their first full-length, Narwhal. The record — released through Future Noise — follows a preparatory split last year with fellow British act Caretaker and 2010′s debut EP, A Sea of Dead Snakes, and continues Undersmile‘s fascination with the sea and with lumbering, droning riffs, Sterne and Corona-Brown both contributing weighted melodies atop the anchoring rhythms of bassist Olly Corona-Brown and drummer Tom McKibbin.
What most stands the band out, though — apart perhaps from its ’90s-style dual female leads — is the album’s density of atmosphere. With lyrics quite literally derived from nightmares, Undersmile concoct an oppressive feel throughout the extended pieces that make up the extended whole of Narwhal(review here), which more or less maxes out the CD format at over 79 minutes. And in all that time, they don’t let up. Even shorter interludes like “Cortege” and the closer “Qaanaaq” moan with the undulating malevolence of the sea, Hel and Taz splitting the writing duties between them but nonetheless creating a work of near-frightening cohesion.
As The Obelisk’s UK special week continues, it’s my pleasure to present the following interview, for which both Hel and Taz provided insights as to the band’s origins, writing processes, the recording of Narwhal– which was helmed by Jimmy “Evil” Hetherington and mastered by none other than Billy Anderson – the striking and bleak cover art by Tony Roberts and much more. In a thriving British scene, Undersmile deliver massive tones, suffocating ambience and dreary moods. They even hint at an acoustic side-project toward the end, so something to watch out for too as Undersmile begins to look forward from Narwhalto the open waters before them.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. Take me through the origins of the band. How was it that you guys all came together and decided to work together? Did the four of you know at first that you’d have both Taz and Hel sing, or did it just work out that way when you started jamming?
Hel:Taz and I started jamming together on acoustic guitars back in 2006 before we knew Tom or Olly. Neither of us consider ourselves singers and initially didn’t want to sing, after a while we jammed with a few other girls (bass and vox) but it just didn’t gel. At the same time, neither of us wanted the responsibility of being the singer, so eventually we gave in and both did it. Olly (Taz‘s partner, now husband) joined us on bass soon after and following that we got a friend in to play drums for us; at that time our sound was much more grungey. After a year he left due to musical differences and was replaced by his friend, Tom (now my fiancé). Olly and Tom both really helped to bring the gnarly low end and slow pace we had been searching for and this is when we really began to sound like we had always intended.
Taz:Hel moved into the building where I was living in 2006 and we discovered we both played guitar and wrote songs. We had a mutual love for bands like Babes in Toyland and L7 as well as everything from classical music to atonal drone. We started out playing a blend of melancholy acoustic guitar and grungy electric dirges. We never intended to sing at all, it just sort of happened and we found our voices worked best when combined (we genuinely can’t bear the sound of one of our voices without the other!). In 2009, my husband, Olly joined us on bass with Hel‘s fiance, Tom joining not too long after. Once we started performing live, we quickly realised that we derived most enjoyment from playing our slowest, heaviest songs and since then it’s been an evolution into the discordant, droning cacophony you hear now…
2. How did the songwriting process work for Narwhal? The album balances its heaviness and ambience so well. Were the songs just built around the riffs? Were you conscious of keeping the mood consistent throughout? At what point did you realize just how much material you were working with?
Taz: With the exception of two of the shorter pieces – “Qaanaaq” which was written by Olly and “Funayurei” which Tom wrote – the songs on Narwhal are written by either Hel or myself. We wrote four songs each for the album. Songwriting for us isn’t so much a conscious thing but we have a similar ear for discordance and disharmony and all viewed Narwhal as an entire piece rather than individual tracks. Tempering the claustrophobia of the longer songs with the shorter interludes though was a deliberate decision to create contrast and add to the sense of disorientation. The writing process for us tends to be that me or Hel will write a song individually then come together to add guitar and vocal harmonies to one another’s track. We then take the songs to band practise where Olly and Tom add their bass and drums and that is the point when the songs really evolve. We’re definitely all at our happiest when working on new material together in the studio. It’s a pure pleasure!
Hel:Taz and I wrote all the tracks on Narwhal, with the exception of “Funayurei” (Tom) and “Qaanaaq” (Olly). The way we work is that whoever is credited for the lyrics gets credited for writing the actual song itself. But there’s no set formula as to “how” songs are written; I might wake up with a riff in my head, a vocal melody, or most often from a nightmare and have some lyrics that came from it — we’re both very similar in that respect. We both suffer terribly with nightmares and sometimes sleep paralysis, but it’s nice to be able to use something so horrible as a creative fuel.
Usually Taz or I will write the full song and then show it to each other, then we work on the harmonies together. When the song is how we want it we bring it to practise and show the boys, they add drums and bass, making it sound massive and I’ll normally add some lead. We always have too much material but we didn’t realise immediately that we would end up having to cut some out (simply because it wouldn’t fit on the CD). At the mastering stage there was a bit of a hoo-har as we kept sending the files back and forward to Billy Anderson, each time cutting a bit more off (sometimes milliseconds at a time) as it wouldn’t fit on an 80-minute disc (a time limit we’d never considered, until near the end I didn’t even know there was a limit, durr!).
3. How did you come to adopt the nautical theme? Even the split with Caretaker had a track called “Anchor,” and of course both the album and A Sea of Dead Snakes touch on water as well. What is it about the ocean that appeals to the band, and how do you see it playing into Undersmile’s sound? Is it something you see yourselves keeping to over future releases, at least in part?
Hel: Funnily enough, I wrote “Anchor” on the same day Taz wrote “Teutonic Dyselxia” from A Sea of Dead Snakes, which it was initially intended to be for, but we ran out of time in the end. We then later swapped a few tracks around that we had lined up for Narwhal and used them for the split. “Anchor” and “Big Wow” were then replaced (on Narwhal) by “Myra” and “The Unthinkable” because they had more of the feel we were going for. We did this because we were asked to do the split with Caretaker via Blindsight Records, midway through arranging the album. As a band, we’re all intrigued by the sea and everything it symbolises; it’s such a huge unknowable element, beautiful, terrifying and all-consuming. We like to try to tap into the feeling of our nightmares (which are often of the sea, or water) and that’s where a lot of our inspiration comes from. In saying that, it hasn’t really been an intentionally thing at all, maybe we have a subconscious fixation, now you come to mention it! ;)
Taz: The sea is a huge source of inspiration for us and I’m certain it will continue to be so in the future. There is a hypnotic monotony to the ocean which I think is apparent in our music and lyrics. There’s a theory that, as a species, we’re fascinated by the sea because it is symbolic of our own mortality; the breaking of the wave representing the moment of death. I’m intrigued, also, by the contrasting characteristics of the ocean itself, being transient yet constant.
4. Tell me about the recording process for Narwhal? How long were you in the studio with Jimmy Hetherington, and what was the studio situation like? Where was the album actually recorded?
Hel: We recorded the drums and bass at Studio 101 with MartinNewton and Jimmy and from there we did the rest at Jimmy‘s. We had loads of fun working with Jimmy, it was a friendly and relaxed environment and he knew what we were going for. Jimmy added elements of his own in the post production that we all thought suited the album perfectly and were really pleased with his contributions to the overall sound.
Taz: We were recording and mixing with Jimmy for almost a year altogether. After a couple of short bursts in the studio to get the bass and drums down, we would go to Jimmy‘s place once a week to add guitar, vocals and varying degrees of filthy noise! The drums and bass were recorded at our friend Martin Newton‘s recording studio, Studio 101 and the rest was done from Jimmy‘s studio at his home in Oxford. I was actually pregnant at the time so there was a tangible sense of urgency in the studio situation as we were working to a pretty inflexible and inevitable deadline!
5. Tony Roberts’ art seems to fit the music and the atmosphere of the album perfectly. How did you end up working with him, and how did that process go? Was there discussion back and forth of ideas, or did he get the music and just work from that? How involved were you in nailing down the finished design?
Taz: We all greatly admire Tony‘s artwork and I think I’m right in saying that we just messaged him to see if he’d be up for doing the album and he agreed. We were all confident that Tony would be able to capture Narwhal‘s atmosphere perfectly and he certainly did. There was a little messaging back and forth but it really wasn’t necessary as Tony sensed the mood of the album immediately. My favourite element is the sea serpent which can be seen emerging from the depths on the inner sleeve, we’ve used it for our latest t-shirt design and it works incredibly well as an individual piece, also.
Hel: We were very involved in the design itself as we all had a clear idea of what we wanted for Narwhal. Tom came across his artwork initially after seeing the cover he’d done for Conan‘s first album, Horseback Battle Hammer. We then looked into it and all agreed we loved his style, at which point we contacted him and asked if he would be up for it. We always liked the idea of a ship sinking and a big sky, and Tony added some elements such as the beautifully drawn waves and the sea serpent on the inside cover (which were our favourite parts). He was a pleasure to work with.
6. Any upcoming shows or releases you want to plug, or other closing words you want to mention?
Hel: We have two shows coming up this year in particular, which are both in the land of Birmingham. 13th October at Scruffy Murphy’s with DieselKing, Ishmaeland Burden of the Noose, then on 17th November at The Asylum, an all-dayer with Cultura Tres (our friends from Venezuela), Grimpen Mire, Slabdragger, Bastard of the Skies and more.
Taz: We are currently working on a secret (shhhhh) project which should be announced very soon. I can say we’re thoroughly enjoying working on it and that I think it’s going to surprise some people… Our next show is on October the 13th in Birmingham where we shall be reunited with our beloved friends and fellow noise-mongers, Ishmael. If you haven’t checked them out you really ought to stop reading this and do it right. Now.
Hel: We’d also like to mention that we have an acoustic side-project (much like the one Taz and I started back in the old days). We played at the Black Heart in London and supported DylanCarlson on his solo tour and we’re currently working on a few things at the moment in that vein, but we’re not allowed to say too much just yet so watch this space for some announcements coming soon!
Posted in Reviews on September 11th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Following the success of their 2010 debut EP, A Sea of Dead Snakes, and a split with fellow British sludgers Caretaker, the ultra-creepy, ultra-agonized foursome Undersmile emerge with Narwhal, their first full-length, available in a gorgeous digipak with Tony Roberts art via Future Noise. The album pushes the limits of the CD format by clocking in at just a hair under 80 full minutes, and for the seafaring double-guitar/double-vocal four-piece, it’s a lot to take on for what’s essentially their first album, but they craft an overwhelming morass of undulating distortion and top it with sorrowful moans and periodic bursts of contradictory shouts, guitarists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown effectively calling and responding and giving the listener the impression of being lost at sea with no land in sight. This is obviously on purpose. Later moments of a song like “The Unthinkable” would seem to be culling some influence from the first The Book of Knots album, but the overall sound of Narwhal is more akin to a slowed-down, sludged-out Drain STH, Sterne and Corona-Brown drawling their vocals out over the extended tracks in doomly fashion while reminding that just because they’re wearing frilly lace dresses and makeup doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t also wreck your ass. Joined in the band (and from what I understand, in interpersonal relationships) by hard-hitting drummer Tom McKibbin and bassist Olly Corona-Brown, Hel and Taz offer more than just crushing riffs and deceptively melodic moaning. More than anything else, it’s the atmosphere of Narwhal – and especially the consistency with which it plays out over the course of the album’s 79-plus minutes – that seems to fill the lungs.
More often than not, the songs are lurchingly slow. Very, very slow. The kind of slow that leaves you wondering how much they’re actually moving at all. Four of the total 10 tracks top the 11-minute mark – those being opener “Lockjaw” (11:38), “Berk” (12:48), “Myra” (16:05) and “The Unthinkable” (11:51) – and in between, shorter pieces like “Funayurei” (1:59), “Cortege” (1:40) and the closing palindrome “Qaanaaq” (2:16) maintain the bleak oceanic atmosphere, but even that doesn’t account for the full sprawl of Narwhal. There are also three songs that would seem to split the difference: “Milk” (6:17), “Mandrill” (8:03) and “Verdigris” (7:17), and while one could probably write an entirely separate review on what went into placing the individual pieces as they are scattered throughout the album, what’s far more pivotal in the actual listening process is how remarkably well they flow together, one into the next. If Undersmile constructed Narwhal – or rather, deconstructed it into individual tracks – from a single, larger whole, I don’t know, but even the shift from the fading distortion of “Berk” into the acoustics, whispers and groans of “Cortege” is smooth, a ghostly sort of echo arising in the layers of the vocally-centered interlude, which precedes “Myra” as the longest and most encompassing of Narwhal’s repetitive, overpowering washes. If their intent was to capture the immensity of the ocean that seems to have solidified as their common theme after factoring into their prior work, they’ve done it. After multiple listens through multiple players, I find no means of listening through which Undersmile’s Narwhal isn’t completely overwhelming on nearly every level.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 9th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Soon to be reviewed British doomers Undersmile released their first full-length, Narwhal, to much hyperbole at the end of May. Their label, Future Noise, sent quick word down the PR wire that the four-piece will be headlining the second stage at this year’s Supernormal Festival, which takes place this weekend. Check it while I delight in the grammar play of the phrase “Undersmile Supernormal,” thoroughly embroiled in my language geekery.
Click the fest poster to enlarge:
UNDERSMILE To Headline The Second Stage At The Supernormal Festival
Our very own UNDERSMILE will be headlining the second stage on Friday at this year’s Supernormal Festival, while the mighty RAMESSES are headlining the main stage. It takes place between Friday 10th to Sunday 12th August at Braziers Park, Oxford. The festival is sponsored byRock-A-Rolla Magazine and below are some links for further information.
Posted in On the Radar on September 27th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
British foursome Undersmile are notable for a few reasons. Probably first among them is that they have not one, but two guitarist/vocalist frontwomen — Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown — at the helm. Second, both sing, and trade off drawling stoner doom vocals for yelling sludge shouts. Third, they hit really, really hard. Listening to Undersmile‘s two tracks on their recent split with countrymen hardcore act Caretaker, even more than the sleepy vocals, it’s the punch the music packs that stands out. Tom McKibbin assaults his toms in the first part of “Big Wow,” setting a slow march, only to give way eventually to a faster groove, but either way, his kick drum feels like it’s taking the air out of your lungs.
Undersmile is rounded out by bassist Olly Corona-Brown, and on the split’s second extended cut, the 12:43 “Anchor,” his four strings follow the plodding start-stop course set by the guitars. “Anchor” ultimately takes a different path from its predecessor, veering into spooky minimalism and culminating in noisy oblivion instead of getting faster and then slowing back down, but shows nonetheless that Undersmile recognize their material is stronger when it moves in one direction or another, rather than just lumbering along. There’s still a considerable stomp to “Anchor,” but it’s dreamier and less outwardly aggressive, the guitars and vocals meshing in the second half like some nightmarishly-slowed ’90s throwback.
If you’re interested, Undersmile have the tracks up at their Bandcamp page and can be found on Thee Facebooks here. The split was released by Blindsight Records, whose page is here, and just in case you don’t feel like clicking any of those links (so much work!), here’s the player with Undersmile‘s tracks and Caretaker‘s: