Let’s make a bet, shall we? While some of their more derivative peers get a lot more heads turning their way these days, in a decade or so Undersmile will be hailed as one of the great doom bands of our times. The Oxford-based quartet have developed a rather unique take on the genre, taking bits and pieces from funeral doom and English classics such as My Dying Bride, turning them all on their heads and coming up with something truly theirs.
In their second outing, “Anhedonia”, the contrasts amongst their different facets are sharper. The heavier stuff crushes harder than before while they become increasingly subtle with their softer side, perhaps reflecting on that minimal approach a lot of what they’ve been doing with Coma Wall for a while. It is, however, on songwriting that they have made the biggest strides since “Narwhal” (a criminally underrated album on its own right). In a genre where sounding as heavy as possible often becomes gimmicky in almost comic fashion, it’s refreshing how good Undersmile have gotten at writing great songs. You know, those tracks whose name always pops up in your head as soon as you even think of the record they’re in.
In terms of instrumentation, the biggest novelty might be the use of Cello. Be it at the beginning of the astonishing “Sky Burial” or taking part on the howlingly beautiful coda of “Aeris”, its presence adds an extra layer of tension to the songs without ever feeling forced on them. Returning to “Sky Burial”, there’s the mantra-like repetition of the lines “There’s no one else / I’m the only one”, which will get stuck in your head long after you’ve heard the record and is one amongst many points which could be used to illustrate the amazing the vocal work of Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown. Either through almost whispered dirges, ripping screams or wailing melodies, the duo excels at every step of the way. Even when they resort more than once to the same method, as they do to a certain extent with the mantras at the end of album closer “Knucklesucker”, they still manage to get something different out of it, thanks to the range of the instrumental background built by their guitars and the tight-as-hell rhythmic section of Tom McKibbin on drums and Olly Corona-Brown on bass.
While “Anhedonia” is only Undersmile‘s second album, they stand far from the commonplace of a band with potential. Granted, there’s plenty of it to go around, but they’ve achieved a level of songwriting that goes way beyond that, managing to convey emotional urgency at every turn and sounding thoroughly original while doing so. This might describe what good art should be and that’s pretty much a fitting way to think of “Anhedonia”.