Album Review: Underdark - Managed Decline

Album Review: Underdark - Managed Decline

Underdark - Managed Decline will be released worldwide on Friday November 24th 2023 via Church Road Records.

Underdark return with their sophomore release ‘Managed Decline’. An ambitious concept album about the degradation of a post-industrial town in the Midlands, telling a story over three generations, describing the loss and despair over 7 tracks in 41 minutes.

Vocalist Abi says:

“I wanted to explore the long term effects of Thatcherite neoliberalism and the slow-burning disaster they've caused for people here. Each generation has to make do with less, and turns to more extreme vices to cope as the loss of purpose and community sets in.”

Post-Black Metal can generally be quite a loose classification. There are acts in the subgenre that barely hint at the Black Metal side, with the line between what is classified as Atmospheric Black Metal and Post-Black seeming to blur more with each passing day. Throw in Blackgaze, and it’s easy to see where debates (if we can call them that!) around subgenre classification originate from. In this case, the “post” part of the name generally means that the sound was derived from another genre, but with other styles mixed in. That feels like an apt description of what Underdark has created. The Black Metal is still very much present, with all the rawness and brutality you would expect. There are also elements of Punk, Post-Hardcore and Shoegaze, all used to great effect on this album. The blend of styles feels very natural, there is nothing forced or contrived, which helps to create an immersive and believable experience.

The opening track ‘The Past We Inherit, The Future We Build (28th February 1972)’ is a short, brass piece, with low ambient noise in the background. The melody is bright and optimistic, suggesting that the trouble has not yet begun.

Second track ‘Managed Decline I (1st April 1988)’ starts with a single guitar, playing a slow, fuzzy riff. The drums stutter, then kick into a steady and powerful beat, following the guitar. It’s a combination that evokes walking towards an entrance (at least in my head anyway!), which works nicely as the opening to an album. The vocals come in part way through this intro, and we hear the first glimpses of the impact that vocalist Abi has. Raw and powerful sounds, very much influenced by more traditional Black Metal, the words are indecipherable, but that doesn’t matter here, the emotion that comes through is the most important part. The intro comes to an abrupt stop, and a sliding, slightly disorientating riff takes over, before a furious blast beat. This builds into a slower section, then a more melodic tremolo-picked riff takes over and we are thrown between blast beats, melody and Post-Hardcore edged riffs until a bass break at around the 6-minute mark. This is punctuated by some beautiful harmonics, ambient synths and vocals, with layers being added gradually, until we arrive in a long outro, steeped in atmosphere and reminiscent of early Post-Black pioneers Alcest.

Reading the track notes as I listen, I really start to feel the story unfold. The emotions ebb and flow throughout the entirety of the record, evoking the feelings of the characters present in this tale of destitution, addiction and a desperation to escape the societal collapse happening in the town. It’s clear this is a well-thought out and intelligently crafted album, the changes in pace and intensity seem deliberate and designed to fit with the story.

When reaching the fade out of the final track ‘Managed Decline II (2nd November 2004)’, there is a sense that there’s more to unlock. I’ve listened to the album a number of times, and it feels like it has more to give with further listens. This, in my opinion, is key to delivering an album that attempts to create an atmosphere. There is very little in the way of catchy hooks or memorable melodies, but that’s not the point. Don’t get me wrong, Underdark have riffs, but they are also telling a story. To tell that story, they have created a powerful and dynamic album, which deserves to be heard.

Rating: 8/10
Release Date: November 24th 2023
Released By: Church Road Records
For Fans Of: Order of the Wolf, Wretched Empires, Alcest

Track Listing:

01 - The Past We Inherit, The Future We Build (28th February 1972)
02 - Managed Decline I (1st April 1988)
03 - Employment (16th June 1993)
04 - Matrimony (27th December 1997)
05 - Raised For A World That No Longer Exists
06 - Enterprise (1st November 2004)    
07 - Managed Decline II (2nd November 2004)

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