In the relatively short period since their formation, Nottingham’s Underdark have crafted a mature sound which fuses the aesthetics of black metal with the atmospherics of shoegaze to create a style that is unique enough to allow them to stand above the litany of atmospheric black metal currently in rotation.
The group’s debut, Mourning Cloak, saw them push this formula to its logical conclusion; producing a release that not only pushes the boundaries of what can be called black metal, but also carries with it a number of important socio-political themes, in some cases verging on the philosophic. Across its twenty-three minute running time, the vocals shriek with a Nietzschean rejection of societies limitations, whilst the music creates a wall of sound designed to soothe our generation’s existential ennui.
We spoke to Dan (drums) and Max (vocals) about their motivations for the band, black metal politics, the importance of the DIY scene and what to expect from Underdark in 2018.
Tell us about the inception of the band. Was there a point of interest or shared ethos that brought you together?
Max: I can’t really offer any insight on this one. The rest of the band had already formed, other than Stephen joining in on bass at a later date, when they asked me to join. Dan had seen me play in my short-lived previous band and thought I’d be a good fit so it went from there.
Dan: The band started when Ollie & Adam (guitars), who I met playing in their previous band Statutes whilst playing with my former band Castaway, approached me about starting a black metal band similar to Deafheaven with scream influences such as Envy (Japan).
When discussing vocalists, Max was the first person to come to mind as we’d both played a gig with his previous band and thought he’d be perfect for it. We tried a couple of different bass players before we asked Stephen if he’d be interested. I knew Stephen for many years, having seen him in a previous band around Nottingham many times and general hanging around.
Once we started practising and writing music together, I believe the shared anti-fascist viewpoints were something we were all passionate about before the band’s inception, and thus almost empowered the music itself in a way.
Your debut LP Mourning Cloak sounds like a band comfortable together; an accomplished first statement. How did you find the process of creating and recording the project?
Max: Writing the first few songs was a fairly long process; at our first gig we only played a two-song set. Now that we’ve come into our own a bit more, the songwriting process isn’t as arduous. As for recording, both times we’ve been in the studio have been an absolute dream. Stuck On A Name is such an important place in the Nottingham scene, for bands to practice, play gigs and record. We’re all really thankful to have somewhere like it, and Boulty, available to us.
Dan: When we first started writing what would become the Mourning Cloak EP, it took a while longer than we originally thought it would due to parts being chopped, changed and scrutinised a lot by us. With the first impression of this band being a Deafheaven/Envy tribute of sorts. The songs started to change and take on influences from artists that both myself and everyone else never thought of.
We did practice the record for a while as well before stepping into the studio with Boulty at Stuck On A Name to make sure we were comfortable in recording the songs. The actual recording process was very easy thanks to Boulty being such a lovely, chilled out person. Boulty mixed the record and then we sent it off to Brad Boatright at Audiosiege Mastering (Converge, Sunn 0))), Nails) who both did an excellent job on the record. We were shocked at how well it sounded when we had the finished product. Next time we enter the studio we can only hope for a similar outcome for the next record.
You are quite outspoken about your opposition to fascist elements within black metal, do you think NSBM is a critical presence within the genre; something we should be wary of?
Max: Definitely. Historically there has been a strong link between the genre and the far-right. Something that unfortunately exists to this day. Thankfully there are a litany of black metal bands now that make their opposition to this clear.
Dan: Absolutely. Being sort of new to black metal when I first started Underdark, I had never heard the phrase NSBM until max mentioned it at one of our first practices. After doing some research into it, and seeing how far historically it’s entwined within black metal and the litany of both bands and members that are involved with it.
With artists that are outspoken white supremacists/Nazis being given a free pass because people want to separate the politics or art from the artist, mixed in with current political climate we find ourselves in, where far-right parties can find themselves in newfound positions of power, now is the time to be more outspoken against these people and artists than ever.
As a counterpoint to the more regressive tendencies within the Genre, there has always been a deep concern and respect for nature in Black Metal. Is this something that inspires you as a band?
Max: As far as lyrical content goes, a respect of nature is something which has inspired me. Our song, ‘The Smell Of Autumn’, is about longing for a return to nature.
Dan: As far as lyrical content for Underdark is concerned, that is all Max’s department, which always makes a great read when listening to the records, in my opinion. I have noticed a few artists within the genre have a lot of nature-related themes within their music, something which I think is going to be explored more on some of our newer material.
Another admirable aspect of black metal is its DIY ethos. The scene seems particularly healthy in Nottingham currently. What is your place within it and how is your relationship with other bands and venues more broadly?
Dan: DIY ethics and cultures are very strong in the UK at the moment. With the rise of DIY venues such as Stuck On A Name in Nottingham, Temple Of Boom in Sheffield and The Lughole in Sheffield to name a few, to promoters putting on shows in such venues and bands and labels self-releasing records, with more people aiming to join in on this. It’s an exciting time to be making music I feel at the moment.
We self-released our EP digitally, then had it distributed by a number of DIY labels. Thanks to; Adorno, Third-I-Rex, Slime Citadel Records and Cave of Roses Collective (big up Sell Your Soul (RIP) for putting your faith into Mourning Cloak and making it what it is now).
We’ll be working with another number of UK-based DIY labels for the next release (more on that in a moment) and I have put a handful of shows on over the past year or two to help both ourselves and friends out, to varying degrees of stress. I would like to put more shows on but, sadly, (a lack of) money is the deciding factor on that. The DIY shows we normally play and attend are usually some of the most fun ones we play. We’re all looking forward to seeing what the DIY scene in Europe brings.
Your music seems to sit at the intersection between black metal and shoegaze. What is it about this more atmospheric brand of metal that attracts you?
Dan: What started it for us was purely Deafheaven and Envy worship. As we carried on writing, we noticed more elements of post-rock/metal and the directions these ambient and quiet sections could take us progressively, which made the songwriting all the more interesting to write, alongside with pushing us to make it more on a grander scale, rather than just straightforward blasts and tremolo picking or more traditional black metal.
With the more atmospheric side of black metal, I think it opens up more experimentation musically and incorporates more outside elements compared to the more traditional-sounding black metal bands.
2017 saw you tour fairly extensively, plus play a string of successful gigs more locally. What were some of your favourite moments playing live?
Dan: 2017 was a busy year gig-wise. We got to play with a lot of bands we enjoy both live and on record. The weekender tour we did with Nihility was absolute class, especially the Glasgow date. We played one of our favourite venues that isn’t stuck on a name called The Flying Duck, which is one of the best vegan restaurants I’ve ever been to. Also saw some old friends at the show and the Nihility set was a full-on warzone, like a scene straight out of a Bruce Lee film. The show nearly got shut down halfway through because people were moshing so hard.
Throughout the year, we’ve played with our friends Dawn Ray’d and Hundred Year Old Man a few times, which is always a pleasure to do. Supporting Coltsblood twice this year was awesome, as they’re one of the heaviest bands on the planet right now. The Nottingham show with The Infernal Sea, Dawn Ray’d and Crimson Throne was a highlight, loads of friends under one roof. More of that this year we hope!
After such a strong first release, what can we expect from Underdark in 2018?
Dan: 2018 sees us releasing a split seven-inch record with our Nottingham friends Antre – awesome unrelenting atmospheric black metal – which we will hopefully be playing some shows around once we get a release date sorted (when the pressing plant hurries the fuck up).
In July, we will also be embarking on our first ever European tour, visiting some places I’ve never been to in my life, which will be interesting. Hopefully, we’ll be playing one or two shows with some friends of ours from the mainland. More information on that from us very soon.
We currently have three songs written for an album, with a further two or three in mind until we have a finished product. Once we’re happy with how all of those are sounding we’ll book ourselves in for some studio time, which will hopefully be around autumn time this year.
Mourning Cloak is available to purchase here.
Words: Jobe Moakes