Underdark are helping to change the face of the UK’s black metal scene. Our Bodies Burned Bright on Re-Entry, their debut album, is lighting up the underground. And they’re just getting started, as drummer Dan and guitarist Ollie explained to Rich Holmes.
Cancelled tours. Shuttered venues. Festivals postponed ad infinitum.
Coronavirus has taken a heavy toll. Covid-19 has battered the underground music community.
But the pandemic hasn’t stunted its creative growth.
Take a closer look at the UK’s black metal scene and you’ll find a bubbling wellspring of talent, a wave of emerging acts who are forging their own identities… and making vital, cathartic music.
And rightly so.
But in their wake are a host of diverse bands rising from Britain’s underbelly – from Sheffield post-BM quintet Hidden Mothers to Scarborough’s spectral Ante-Inferno and Edinburgh’s windswept black metallers Úir.
This summer, however, belongs to Nottingham’s Underdark.
Thanks to debut album Our Bodies Burned Bright on Re-Entry – which dropped on July 30 – the five-piece are in the ascendancy.
Building on the early promise of 2016’s Mourning Cloak EP, a 2018 split with fellow Notts act Antre and last year’s Plainsong/With Bruised and Bloodied Feet release, Underdark’s first full length is a heady mix of fierce black metal, glistening post-rock, intriguing atmospherics and searing political invective.
Coyotes addresses the humanitarian crisis at the US/Mexico border, while on With Ashen Hands Around Our Throats, singer Abi turns her scalding vocal cords towards the Grenfell tragedy and exploitative landlords.
There’s beauty in Our Bodies Burned Bright on Re-Entry.
But its heart is full of rage.
And while Underdark may have a black metal backbone, in many ways they’re closer to Britain’s crust punk tradition than frostbitten Norse BM.
“Underdark is more about our own lives and surroundings,” explains drummer Dan. “Obviously the second wave of black metal bands grew up in the middle of nowhere, hence why a lot of their songs are about snowy landscapes and being isolated, but we are British people in the middle of the Midlands.
“If we were writing about being on the top of a mountain and screaming about goblins, it would be a bit false and phoned in for us!
“Grenfell is on our doorstep, pretty much, and Abi lived in Mexico until she was nine.
“Her family is Mexican, so (the border crisis) is a subject close to her heart.
“She felt compelled to write about it.”
How Abi has changed Underdark…
Abi, who is also a sci-fi author, has been central to Underdark’s upsurge.
She was first introduced to fans on 2020’s cover of The Cure’s Plainsong and new track With Bruised and Bloodied Feet.
And the vocalist is now deeply embedded into the band…
“Abi had made the band better in every way possible,” says Dan. “Her lyrics are really interesting and she has a great range of vocal styles.
“She sounds like five different people in one at times.
“We really lucked out by having her in this band.”
The drummer continues: “Abi puts a lot of effort into everything she does: it’s always well thought out and well executed.
“She is always really positive and wanting to work hard.
“Because of this we are all a lot happier compared to where we were before Abi joined.
“It seems like we are actually a bunch of friends how, hanging out and making music.”
Guitarist Ollie is similarly impressed, especially when it comes to Abi’s role on stage.
“With Abi we are 100 per cent better than we were last time around,” he says. “I feel a lot more confident.”
Underdark’s new chapter
A happier, more buoyant Underdark camp has clearly paid dividends.
Our Bodies Burned Bright on Re-Entry has garnered major acclaim for its emotional complexity and musical dexterity.
The band have been lauded for the vision and ambition which shines from the record’s five tracks.
Were they expecting the positivity that has come their way since its release?
“No, I didn’t have any preconceptions on how people would react,” replies Dan. “We are just doing what we do but – without meaning to sound too big headed – better, but I didn’t expect the reaction we have received.”
Yet the band, who formed in 2015, have clearly been building to this moment, honing their craft and perfecting their blackened art.
Ollie – who shares main writing duties with fellow six stringer Adam – says: “We have spent a lot of time making the songs work.
“Going from black metal to a screamo part to a shoegaze part without it being jarring or clunky is a big accomplishment.”
“Some parts sound like Deftones, going into Black Sabbath over a breakdown, then going into Mayhem, then Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Managing to get that without it sounding like a complete shambles is a very proud moment!
“There are little nuances that I really love, like the melodic part of Our Bodies Burned Bright going into the black metal section.
“These are songs I would never have dreamed of writing when I was first learning the drums. I’m really proud of them.
“Adam and Ollie’s quality filter is ridiculous.
“They will only show us something when they think it’s untouchably brilliant and then they will still take it back and rework it.
“I think that’s why it has taken so long. Some of the songs on this album we must have rewritten about three or four times, to get them just right.
“We are all on the same page as far as quality control goes. It takes its time but it’s worth it.”
Underdark and black metal
Are Underdark a black metal band?
As far as the purists are concerned, probably not.
Gorgoroth they ain’t.
“I remember playing a full on black metal show – one of our first shows in Nottingham,” Dan recalls. “And there were lads in full on corpsepaint, spikes and leather going absolutely hammer at the front of the stage!
“That was a very weird moment…”
Ollie says with a chuckle: “I was into black metal as a teenager and it was all Cradle Of Filth t-shirts then I stopped listening to it.
“But I am 36 now and I am in a black metal band!
“Black metal doesn’t take itself as seriously as it did back then, which can only be a good thing.”
How do Underdark fit in?
Dan is an dedicated Converge disciple (“if I could tour with them I could literally walk out into the street and get hit by a bus, and I would be quite happy”). Ollie praises post-rock veterans Mogwai.
Underdark embrace a wild mix of styles and consequently, connect with audiences outside the black metal orbit.
“All of us are all into different stuff and we have played with doom, grind, sludge and slam bands,” explains Underdark’s drummer.
“If it’s a crowd we’re not really used to and we are the heaviest band on the bill, we will try to win people over. That makes us work harder.
“And vice versa, we can play with death metal, black metal and doom bands and we could be one of the lightest sounding bands on the bill, so we have to work hard to win them over as well.
“It makes it more interesting.”
The rise of UK black metal
Underdark are part of a UKBM scene that’s gaining real momentum.
Wode’s third album was released on respected US label 20 Buck Spin in April, Dawn Ray’d were touring the States pre-pandemic, London’s Calligram were picked up by Prosthetic Records for 2020’s The Eye is the First Circle… and a host of underground British black metal bands are making their voices heard.
It feels like an exciting time for a scene which has so often been in the shadows of its Scandinavian and American counterparts.
“I love how varied and how incredible all these bands are,” says Dan with infectious enthusiasm. “There is so much good quality stuff coming out, everywhere you turn there is something new being dropped and you are just like, ‘fucking hell, this is incredible!’.
“This is the healthiest heavy music has been in the UK for a long time and it’s only going to get better, I think.
“It will be really interesting to see where people go from here.”
Does the success of Dawn Ray’d – a black metal band who share Underdark’s anti-fascist standpoint – provide inspiration?
“We absolutely look up to them and love them to bits,” replies Dan. “And we have the drive and be at least on par with them.
“With bands like Dawn Ray’d making stuff like that look possible I think we can definitely give it a shot.”
The voyage continues…
Underdark have come a long way since Mourning Cloak was birthed in Nottingham’s Stuck On A Name Studios.
A hell of a long way.
But the hard graft that has helped them reach this point doesn’t stop now.
“We are determined,” asserts Dan. “When we reach a goal we have set we are like, right, what’s next?’, rather than sitting on our laurels and basking in the sunlight.
“We always want to out-do ourselves.
“With a bit of perseverance and hard work you can work wonders. We don’t want to half arse anything.”
And they’ll not be half-arsing their return to live shows either.
Expect something special when Underdark pitch up at your local venue…
“We’ve been working really hard in practice,” concludes Dan. “We literally hammer the sets out with military precision.
“We want and need to get out and play again.
“Once we put one foot on stage, all hell will break loose.”
Our Bodies Burned Bright on Re-Entry is out now on Surviving Sounds (UK), Through Love Records (EU) and Tridroid Records (US/Canada). Check out our review here.