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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Underhill - "Prologue"

Artist: Underhill
Album: Prologue
Year: 2014
Label: Ad Noiseam
Genre: Dubstep, Downtempo
Website:  www.adnoiseam.net/

Underhill is a supergroup made up of Dean Rodell, Ivan Shopov (Cooh / Balkansky), Tim Eliot (Current Value), Martina Astner, and MC Coppa. According to the linear notes, all tracks on this album were written by Rodell and Shopov, and it was mastered by Eliot. There are no vocals either, so I'm guessing only those three were behind this effort. Anyhow, as you'd probably expect coming from the aforementioned heavy hitters, this is a huge album. I haven't followed Underhill much, though I am familiar with the Current Value & Dean Rodell collabs back from when I went through something of a dubstep phase and those guys blew me away with their stuff. I'm also familiar with Cooh and Balkansky, so naturally I had high expectations for this group.

Considering the minds behind the project, Prologue is similar to what I expected as someone who isn't familiar with Underhill. The listener is treated to 9 cuts of dark, grimey dubstep that incorporate downtempo moods and IDM-leaning levels of complexity. The first track, "All That Glitters" immediately sets the tone for the record. Underhill delivers darker than expected, very deep and spacious dubstep which brings me back to the characteristics that first attracted me to the genre. To me, this is exactly how "dubstep" should be written. It sounds like an industrial sewer complex in the future. Despite dripping with grime and muck, the production is very good and everything sits exactly where it should within the mix. "Happier" explores more of a dancefloor vibe with the wobbly bass and dissonant melodic bits. "Folded" is a long piece that focuses on atmosphere and sparse percussion; definitely a slow burn style track, it builds seemingly forever before kicking into an IDM influenced beat about 5 minutes in. "The Land of Grey" is one of my favorites here. This track utilizes an emotional melody combined with their trademark heavy bass and delves into a more melancholic vibe. There is a great juxtaposition between that and the crunchy beat which carries a rather industrial feel. Kind of like a sad graveyard of obsolete machines. "Your Mind" is another dancey track with a faster tempo and groovy, rolling percussion. The title track, a collab with dark ambient artist Mytrip, is unique in that it is completely ambient and contains no percussion. Similar to Mytrip's own work, this is 6 minutes of gritty, bleak soundscapes which make you feel like you're alone in a blackened subterranean complex. There is a great, creepy piano at about 4 minutes in. The placement in the tracklist seems a bit off; in my opinion it may have worked better as the album closer (I subsequently realized that they do in fact end with an ambient song, though this comment still stands). Anyhow, the album finishes up with "Two Keys Black",  reminding me of a bleaker take on old 90s IDM such as Mouse on Mars with the stutter-y beat and heavily reverbed piano melody, which takes us into the album closer "Please Specify" -- another haunting ambient piece that leaves the listener in fear of this strange and terrible dystopic world.
Each track works with the interesting contrast between a futuristic / dystopian / machinery vibe and a more organic & tangible one. So, while the songs conjure images of futuristic landscapes, there remains a very human element to them - reminding us that behind the robots, dark mechanical catacombs, and weapons of war there are humans and Prologue is still telling a very human story.

A great release and something to definitely check out for people who enjoy the "classic" dubstep sound from when the genre was about dark atmospherics. Though each track carries a similar vibe, there is a substantial amount of variety in the track styles which allow this album to remain fresh and interesting all the way through. Even though I rarely listen to any kind of "dubstep" music, this struck a chord with me, and I found myself really enjoying it and not wanting to turn it off. Now that I think about it, it fits in quite well with the Ad Noiseam roster of dubstep guys - Mobthrow, Matta, etc. (although this is darker, which is always a plus in my book). If you like bass heavy, atmospheric music than give this a shot.

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