Label: Southern Lord Records
Genre: Powerviolence / Grindcore
Release Date: June 14th, 2019
The Japanese extreme music scene is one of the best in the world, and I’m always excited to explore its new releases. This new Friendship record seemed promising since it comes from that scene and falls into some of my favorite genres. Undercurrent’s cover and all one-word song titles also give it an eerie and menacing veneer. I was excited to check this thing out, but I was overall unphased by this album.
Undercurrent has some elements that I feel are worth praising. The drums on this record are excellent. Following the nice dark ambient/noise intro, Vertigo kicks off with these great, mathcoreesque drums. Every single drum hit is punchy and audible on Abandon and it really redeems the song. The fills and blast beats on Garbage and Wrecker are some of the best I’ve heard all year. The drummer truthfully is the best part of the album, and I wish they were highlighted more on these songs. There are some moments where the other instrumentation shines through too though. Plague has some killer opening moments with nasty and dynamic riffs. The breakdowns that appear on this record are also mostly hefty and satisfying to the ear. Within Undercurrent are shots of great ideas and compelling music.
Even though there are moments on this album I quite enjoy, it is overall underwhelming. I understand that I must sound like a broken record in these lukewarm reviews, but Friendship falls into the same trap as lots of other bands, even outside of metal. This record plays it unbearably safe. While the drums are the best part of this album, they are only prominent at the beginnings of songs. After they fade into the mix, the rest of the song is often completely uninteresting. This is the case with Vertigo and Abandon. After the rest of the instrumentation joins the mix, these tracks come across as cookie-cutter powerviolence with a hardcore influence. After its noisy intro, Lack fails to grasp me in any way. Fiend is the same way, an uninteresting, meat and potatoes track. Despite this at least the tracks on this album keep a common tone a sound throughout their length. Well, except for the closer, Hatred, which is a complete wreck. The end of this track is the bad kind of hideous, and it sounds like every piece of the mix is acting alone.
This record left me feeling unimpressed. Friendship is understandably trying to enter the upper echelon of extreme music, but they have not delivered anything that can compete. In almost all respects this record is outclassed in the genres it falls into. This album causes me to scratch my head and wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s gotten a bit of buzz and it seems like there is a lot of hype around it, but there’s nothing new here. The vocals on this album sound like standard grind growls and just make me wish I was listening to Nails or Behemoth. It’s clear this band pulls influence from Converge and Full of Hell, but they just sterilize that style. There are moments on Undercurrent where the band seems like they are going to do something interesting, but they always pull back. Consequently, the songs here lose their momentum. It makes no sense to me why the compelling moments on this album are the exceptions and not the rule. The best tracks here robbed of their potential by basic riffs, vocals, and song structures.
I understand the temptation to play safe and stick to convention. I suppose it is better to receive a lukewarm response than a scathing one, and Undercurrent is a lukewarm album. Still, it’s worth asking, is it worse for an album to leave a bad impression or none at all?
Total Playing Time: 22:17