There’s something unnervingly sweet and endearing about Oxford quartet Undersmile. Comprising two very loved-up couples, there’s also a folkish offshoot, Coma Wall; and a winsome charm to Taz Corona-Brown and Hel Sterne, the female half of the outfit, which belies their stage personae as zombiefied, brutally-defiled dolls. But the music…
The band’s torturously slow style is given a creepy quality by the ladies’ dual vocals: drawled intonations, atonal yet harmonic; expiring breaths emanating from the diseased, throttled, heavily-painted mouths. Near-feathered drums and thrumming bass notes accompany at a measured pace. Sound dull? Far from it. Anhedonia (Black Bow Records) is bloody hypnotic, because you’re waiting for the explosion; a squealing lead winding itself around booming yet crawling rhythms, riffs to crush buildings and barking screams that chill the soul.
The sorrowful opening to ‘Sky Burial’ houses the first employment of the cello which has so awakened the already urgent yet pregnant Undersmile sound, adding a SubRosa-esque quality which is the jigsaw’s missing piece. The accompanying latent chants keep the attention firmly fixed until the brief but spectacular shows of savagery, full of the weight and anger of a protective bull elephant, burst forth. This is the only track to fall under ten minutes, so the uninitiated may feel more comfortable bringing butties and a flask. The already converted, however, will have no such need.
The voices of ‘Song of Stones’ are delicate, honeyed yet shamanic incantations befitting the subject matter, enlivened by brief yet poignant cello/lead duets toward the apocalyptic, brain-dissolving convergence of power. Utterly terrifying Sludge sequences within ‘Atacama Sunburn’ complement the eerie, ghoulish softness and closing melancholy they counter; whilst that folk link is evident in the highly charged, mournful crush of the incredible ‘Aeris’.
Despite the more ponderous sound being the template this is haunting, sinister, sometimes brutal yet downright sexy stuff. It boots debut full-length Narwhal (Future Noise) to the sidelines with its increased flow and depth, and will ensnare the senses of all who encounter it. The hostile quickening and psychotic intonations of metronomic closer ‘Knucklesucker’ is a boiling coda to a remarkable achievement.