Monday, March 18, 2013

... COMA WALL / UNDERSMILE "Wood & Wire" (Split-album review)

With their debut album "Narwhal" released last year, Oxford's quatuor UNDERSMILE have revealed themselves as one of the most interesting and audacious new bands coming out from UK for a long long time... Some will argue they're too minimalistic and quickly boring, too much centered on their ladies duo on vocals + guitars, etc... while fans will tell you willingly that the nautical Doom displayed by those despaired lovers is one of the most uncomfortable musical experience they've ever been confronted to within the doom sphere, while one of the most striking and exciting too !!!

And then what can be worth of interest to release a split album with "themselves" ?!!! Indeed, it's a fact that the idea of sharing a split with their acoustic reincarnation of COMA WALL (same line-up) is something that could seem a bit strange and even kinda opportunist for the most embittered commentaries, questions which are quickly swept for anyone who's got a minimum of clear-sightedness...

Each band has 3 songs to assert its identity, own caracters and the opener "Summer" quickly proves that C.W. is not just an unplugged version of Undersmile but more of its transposition in a droney Folk context with a subtle development on melodies and  vocal harmonies, not forgetting Tom's banjo which brings a nice dynamic to the Americana table. Monotony and melancholy are shared in more equal parts to give a bit more brightness to the overall, don't expect to stamp's one foot though.
"You Are My Death" is my fave of the three songs, the way the band succeeds to make this one ambient, peaceful and doomy at the same time, is simply stunning and a real promise of a rosy future...

And then by crossing the sea towards the woods,  did UNDERSMILE enlighten a bit their sound or is it still an asphyxiating, slow and heavy distorted sludge/drone at the programm ? A bit of both in fact, certainly due to the special context of this split and production work of Justin Greaves (Iron Monkey, Electric Wizard...).
It also seems obvious that the actual existence of C.W. serves the original project positively, gaining in strength and substance (I'm thinking here especially about the layered dual vocals which are ultimately developed).
Slightly less monotonous and suffocating than on Narwhal - which leads each song to shorter duration, still very hypnotic, "Soil" is immediately reassuring and can quickly punish curious uninitiated people !
 "Killer Bob" could have easily found its place on their debut, extremely dark and haunting, we find here all the usual elements of the band's sound pushed at their extremities : dreary vocals, agonizing downtuned guitars, rumbling bass, minimal drumming... all infused with that particular sense of oppressive and nightmarish despair which make here again Undersmile sound almost lifeless.
Undersmile surely remains uncomfortable, still not an easy-listening for anyone but those who get excitement and deliverance in painful moods and uncompromising weighty sounds will be delighted again !

All in all, this split album is an overwhelming experience through the creative souls of those 4 british artists, between tormented heaven and painful hell. The challenge was not that easy to overcome but they succeeded beyond my expectations and certainly yours if you already know them... Those who didn't like previous stuff mainly because of too long songs and unbearable oppression should give them a new chance, to let the senses act and give their final approbation...

Release date is 1st April and this is a limited edition 12" - 500 copies on transparent purple vynil with lyric sheet and digital download card :

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