2017’s Hatred came and went with little to no fanfare, and that itself is a crime against music. We didn’t cover it here, so more fool us. Not this time though. Undercurrent, the new record from Japanese hardcore miscreants Friendship, demands the attention that Hatred might have gathered, were it not just a little bit too much of every genre tag available to it. Friendship’s debut was noisy and crushing and diabolical, sure, but there was an air of “almost” about it. The sludge was almost just right, the blasting barrages almost clinically devastating, and so on. Maybe the band felt that themselves. That would explain how this new record is so lean, so lavish with jaw-breaking heft and grooves, and so goddamn critical in the extended hardcore scene of 2019.
Friendship own their acutely specific style of riffing, dipping in and out of turgid grooves and ferocious stabbings of shrieking discord without ever losing the forward-driving momentum that threatens Undercurrent‘s classification as “hardcore”. Soaked in rich sludgy tones, the strings often work their way around a single motif, Frankensteining each riff to contort and conform to the mood and tempo that the percussion decides. The string section rarely strays from this crazy-paved path, settling only once in the final moments of closer “Hatred”. Even then, settling isn’t a great term for the atonal, misery-making chugs that Friendship lay down on the records’ closing moments, thanks in no small part to the wildly expressive drums behind it. It’s fitting that the percussive element gets the final say on this record, considering how vital the wild intros and imaginative, punchy fills are to the band’s sound.
It’s this constant pressure that propels Undercurrent ahead of the baying pack. The only filler track on the record is the fuzzy, cavernous “Demise” that opens the record, after that everything is a million miles a minute. “Vertigo” sticks the listener behind the wheel of an out of control wrecking vehicle, the gas pedal stuck down and the windshield murky with blackened fog. “Plague” and “Wrecker” aren’t the only two tracks brought to life by the fantastically produced drum kit, but they could probably fall into comparative obscurity next to some of the more immediately engaging tracks without such a strong percussive element. The snare, toms, kicks, and cymbals all punch and smash with such clarity you could be forgiven for mistaking the performance for a drum machine, but no, they’re just produced much better than 99% of drum sounds in extreme music. You won’t hear a more snappy d-beat this year.
Same band. Different beast. That’s as succinctly as one can describe Undercurrent compared to Friendship’s previous releases. The record is trim, tight, and a tour de force of chaotic dark hardcore, offering no reprieve from the constant barrage of military-grade percussion and demented riff slinging. Where others struggle to blend chaos into a direct, unforgiving product, Friendship succeed. Any fan of Cult Leader, Gaza, or Cursed who hasn’t taken the time to plug into the band’s frenetic showcase of genre collision should really drop whatever they’re doing and give Friendship their full attention, at least for twenty-two minutes. Don’t say we didn’t warn you about this band.
Undercurrent is available June 14 via Friendship’s Bandcamp.