There’s no question that 2020 has been the most feel-bad year for many; and although musicians have largely had touring and live performances taken away from them by the pandemic, artists haven’t been deterred in a creative sense. It’s been a stellar year for new music, and some musicians have managed to translate the emotional claustrophobia of lockdown restrictions into great art in itself. Enter Manchester-based noisy sludge trio Under, who have expertly captured the unease of 2020 on this new EP release, Training Resource #5.
Before we even talk about the music, we have to admire the brilliant promotional rollout attached to this EP. The album artwork mocks corporate training videos, with soulless blue-collar office employees vacantly staring at you – their dead eyes photoshopped out like a creepypasta you’d find deep into a late night Reddit rabbit-hole. The social media advertising for this release billed it to followers more like an unwanted work assignment than something you might want to buy and enjoy. The credits on the liner notes list the band members as the “creative department” and APF label boss Andrew Field as the “corporate CEO”. Not only is this genius attention to detail an extension of Under’s darkly sinister sense of humour that has purveyed across their entire body of work (this approach being particularly reminiscent of The Residents or Cardiacs), but it genuinely does a great job of capturing the soul-sucking fact that going to our normal jobs has largely been the only activity we’ve been allowed to keep doing for the majority of this year, whilst our social lives and leisure time have been left to crumble.
With just four short songs in 14 minutes, Training Resource #5 is not only an EP of Under’s fastest material, but it is also the most relaxed a band well known for uncomfortable listening have sounded yet. Throughout the EP you can catch little moments of in studio banter that would usually be edited out in post, but here those small glimpses expertly bring the listener into the room with Under, in what is the most intimate sounding record they have produced so far. Those who enjoyed songs such as ‘Grave Diggers’ and ‘Soup’ from their previous record, Stop Being Naïve should expect to hear a set of more hardcore and thrashier leaning numbers this time around. ‘Dividers In Hell’ is a straight up thrashing rager that pushes Under’s trademark jagged tempo riffs, splatterings of discordant guitars and unpredictable time signature shifts into the background, having them as more of a subtle nuance than the backbone of these songs. ‘Dope Loop’ is a bit more typical to Under’s sludge and noise rock upbringings, but still manages to sound catchier and more direct than many of their more expansive album tracks. Under are having fun and letting their guard down a bit on this EP, which ties up with a magnificent cover of Black Flag’s ‘My War’; a song that feels like a perfect song for the trio to be taking on, and they certainly make it their own.
Under taking a more straight-forward approach to writing and performing across this EP should not at all undermine just how strange, out there and challenging their music really is. Even when the trio are letting their hair down and playing a cover song, their music still brims with tension, psychodrama and menace. If Training Resource #5 proves anything, it’s that no matter what form the three-headed, seedy underbelly dwelling monster chooses to embody itself as, the results are always going to be striking, and Under still remain a criminally misunderstood beacon of light in the UK’s heavy underground. Though APF Records label-mates Possessor and Video Nasties embody horror in more of a loving kind of way, it’s Under who provide the true nightmare fuel. Their music sounds like the sonic equivalent of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, soundtracking the sinister reprobates that stalk the backstreets at night; scummy, drug-fuelled, on edge, unpredictable, knife in pocket and just wanting to watch the world burn.
Training Resource #5 is out now on cassette, CD and digital formats through APF Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French