Managed Decline

Church Road
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. The Past We Inherit, The Future We Build (28th February 1972)
02. Managed Decline (1st April 1988)
03. Employment (16th June 1993)
04. Matrimony (27th December 1997)
05. Raised For A World That No Longer Exists
06. Enterprise (1st November 2004)
07. Managed Decline II (2nd November 2004)

It begins with a warm wave of mournful brass, suggesting that UNDERDARK may have mellowed over the two years since their first album, "Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry". The slow, sad riff that slithers in at the start of real opener "Managed Decline" puts everything squarely back in the post-black metal realm, and all the pain, frustration and loss of the last few years begins to ooze cathartically away. And then it erupts, as it must, into a swirling maelstrom of blastbeats and animal howls. UNDERDARK have not mellowed. Hardly surprising in the circumstances. In fact, they sound vastly more pissed off than ever before, and it's a beautiful thing.

It would probably be better for everybody if there were fewer fucked up things happening, and less motivation for bands to make records as frantic and excoriating as "Managed Declined". But even the death of reason has its advantages. These songs have been electrified by thwarted fury and belched into the ether from a sparks-shower of spontaneity. UNDERDARK pluck all the expected post-metal strings, but why gaze at your shoes when you can stare straight into the abyss? The title track is a slow burning, gauntly melodic anthem with a tender heart, and the noises pouring from vocalist Abi Vasquez's larynx tell a tale of unremitting disgust and disquiet. Next, "Matrimony" briefly tears at the heartstrings, before the British five-piece embark on a wild black metal odyssey that steadily eats itself. Stripping things to down to a grim hurricane of darkness, "Matrimony" is one for the old-school black metal heads and fans of existential indignance, as convincingly vocalized by an unhinged-sounding Vasquez. Epic by design, but strangely intimate in tone, it feels almost bloated with great riffs. Fortunately, UNDERDARK have a way of letting their dense and challenging music breathe. For all its sorrowful trimmings, "Enterprise" is simply a very fine progressive black metal song, and rather more accessible than fans of the band's first album may expect. It still bristles with desperate rage, of course, but these are the times we live in, folks.

So many of post-rock and post-metal's most cherished tropes have become shrug-inducing cliches over the years, but here they are refreshed and re-equipped to shatter hearts all over again. Grand finale "Managed Decline II" ups the ante once and for all, as UNDERDARK sew several strands of their sound together into a free-flowing, flawless whole. There are big, chunky metal riffs, impossibly pretty (and oddly MAIDEN-like) instrumental interludes, and vast slow-moving walls of guitars, played through a thousand FX pedals at once, all wrapped around Vasquez's horrified roar as an anchor to grim reality. It really is an extraordinary piece of music, albeit one with a cold, dead heart.

This is a horribly dark record that will burrow under the fingernails and claw at the nervous system. That's a recommendation, by the way. Enjoy.

Author: Dom Lawson
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