Doom…yet another genre that, over the past 20 years has been dragged into the mire of mediocrity as new and ever improbable branches of it spring forth and more bands jump on an ever heaving bandwagon; trad doom, blackened doom, doom death, funeral doom, symphonic doom, gothic doom, crust doom…blah blah blah. Fortunately in the last couple of years a UK band has risen to the top of the heap to breathe new life into the sound. Oxford’s Undersmile are a band that takes the basic principals of doom and twists the knife to create a sound that is truly dark, stark and harrowing. Surely that’s what doom should be a bout. Their “Narwhal” album released on Future Noise Recording sin 2012 is, to my ears at least, a game changer for the genre stylistically and atmospherically. It doesn’t stop there though for Undersmile have a schizophrenic nature and habitually play out in their acoustically driven guise of Coma Wall. It is perhaps a natural progression then that both bands should now share some wax.
Coma Wall are up first. Unsurprisingly this isn’t exactly Ratt or Poison territory…thank fuck for that. The three tracks presented here, “Summer”, “You Are My Death” and a reworking of Undersmile’s own “Cutter’s Choice” are equally morose and downbeat but possessed of a stark beauty that is almost cinematic in their scope. Acoustic guitars are backed up by bass and drums and augmented by banjo and cello to haunting and hypnotic effect. Similarly the dual vocals of Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown have had the rougher edges of their Undersmile personas smoothed over but retain the harmonic drone that is their trademark infusing them with a sombre sense of melody. The effect is really quite stunning and dramatic. The same vibe that underpins Undersmile remains but this is something that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on the soundtrack to a David Lynch film. I have heard parallels drawn to Alice In Chains’ acoustic efforts and there is some merit in the comparison but, if anything, Coma Wall succeed in mining depths of despair that AIC only scratched the surface of.
Flip this record over and it is Undersmile’s turn to plug in and unleash the sounds of Hellish torment that they are rapidly becoming the only masters of. Undersmile are a band that usually take their sweet time to develop and build a song, often stretching things out past the 10 minute mark. Their album featured only 10 songs in a harrowing 80 minutes. Here though, within the confines of one side of vinyl, and wanting to be able to present more than one and half songs, the band have tightened the reins and the effect is immediately apparent. First track “Soil” shows a marked quickening of pace over their usual one beat per minute crawl. It’s still slow and grinding as you like but has, dare I say it, a greater sense of groove under their monolithic, weighty wall of guitar. It also seems as though the dynamics of Coma Wall have influenced these songs as cleaner guitars, with an almost countryish twang add light and shade. Vocally too the cleaner Coma Wall style is being employed to magnificent effect. The torment continues through “Killer Bob” and “Hives” with the band exploring their increasingly apparent sense of experimentalism and dramatics as well as their far tighter grasp of creating memorable riffs and coherent song structures.
This is a remarkable release by any standards; Coma Wall craft three tracks of unspeakable yearning and heartbroken beauty while Undersmile rewrite the doom rule book and transcend the genre into something far darker and unique. It is no easy feat to create a sound across two bands that is so markedly different to each other yet both succeed in making the ultimate depths of despair so compelling and beautiful.
This is the first we have heard from Coma Wall and their stark and dark Americana, and certainly won’t be the last and as for Undersmile, with each release their growth as a band continues at a disproportionate rate to the passing of time. Give it five years and they could well be headlining Roadburn!!!