When it comes to experiencing new music, two things are certain: you can never judge a book by its cover, nor should you ever trust what the artists themselves say about their music until you’ve heard it for yourself. Underling — a Bay Area supergroup featuring members of Fallujah, Arkaik, and Battlecross — are proof enough of both of these rules, as their debut album Bloodworship looks like and is marketed as an atmospheric black metal record. Coming from a group of established death metal musicians, this should be somewhat of a departure on paper at the very least. However, when considering the record’s scope as a whole, Bloodworship is a far cry from the distant reverberations of Wolves in the Throne Room. It’s actually much more than that.
Underling are one of the few currently active bands that can defy fitting into a single box. Advertised and promoted as a post black metal record, Bloodworship certainly pulls inspiration from the movement, but the band picks apart the elements that define the genre and often places them into the sonic context of modern death metal. The songwriting, blastbeats, high-end screams, and layered tremolo-picked guitar compositions are all here, but presented with mechanized clarity. This disparity raises some interesting questions when it comes to music: are the razor-thin lines that divide metal’s many subgenres backed not by technique and songwriting theory, but more so by production quality?
Perhaps for the sake of simplicity, one could slap “post-metal” on Bloodworship and call it a day, but it would be a disservice to both the band — who absolutely do not follow the Neur-Isis course of action — and would-be fans seeking proper detail. Blackened death metal would also be a misnomer considering that it implies a direct comparison to acts such as Behemoth or Dimmu Borgir, but that doesn’t really make sense, either. Truthfully, Bloodworship is a much more diverse record that perhaps even the band have given it credit for in its ability to encompass many different genres into its runtime while maintaining a sense of focus and consistency.
For instance, opening track “Blackout” hints at chunky Gojira-order riffing while breaking the song down midway through with a propulsive crust punk bridge. Immediately following is the grooving bass-lead song “Servant of Filth,” which dwells in the direct lineage of Teethed Glory and Injury-era Altar of Plagues. Elsewhere, the band shows a more dynamic and sensitive aspect of their sound in the female-fronted dream-pop sound of “The Seventh Wall” and the instrumental opening for “Adore.” The band are also adept at crafting some truly moving post-rock, as evidenced by the powerful closer, “Becoming the Faintest Light.” These sounds intersect frequently across Bloodworship, allowing “Stay” and “Crawling at the Rot” to approach post-hardcore and emotive hardcore territory with major key melodies and punk rhythms while still feeling right at home against the act’s modernized blend of black metal and death metal.
These shifts in style and tone are done with an almost innate knowledge from its members in how to artfully establish a sonic manuscript from which the band can pull for inspiration. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the pedigree of its members, but Underling are in a very advantageous position as being a band that truly can do just about anything in the course of an album and get away with it. Bloodworship may have been a sleeper from 2015, but Underling have shown themselves worth more than to be compartmentalized as a mere side-project, but as a powerful creative force that can go anywhere from here.