I’m always a little shocked when I revisit Undergang’s early material, like 2011’s Indhentet Af Døden. Not because it’s bad; it’s actually quite good. Excellent even. To my ears though, there just isn’t much indication there of the course the band was going to chart on later albums.
Indhentet Af Døden just feels like an exceptionally potent example of the first wave of early ’90s, revivalist-and-hardcore-infused death metal that seemed to have finally crested in 2019 with Tomb Mold’s Planetary Clairvoyance.
Current Undergang surely couldn’t be slotted into the sea of OSDM that has nearly drowned extreme metal fans in the recent past, but I think their latest album Aldrig i livet is closer to this starting point than either myself or many others could have anticipated.
Through iterative refinements of their vile, sonic vernacular over successively more grotesque-sounding albums, from 2012’s Til Døden Os Skiller through to 2017’s fine-grooved, bone-meal-maker Misantropologi, Undergang have managed to develop an unnaturally soggy quality to their guitar tones, learning to simmer their vocal presence in the septic swamp waters of Finnish death, and slowing down the tempos to allow the thwack of each cleaver-shaped guitar-line to land with a maximalist thud.
To say it more plainly: Undergang have learned how to sound sick as hell! (Like, literally sick.)
I imagine the studio being splattered with flecks of puss and bile after every recording session. Rotting strips of skin lying around in clumps like wet towels on the floor of a hotel bathroom, and wastebaskets overflowing with bandages that have been thoroughly soaked in blood and mucus. It may come as some surprise, then, to hear me say that on Aldrig i livet, Undergang have cleaned up their act somewhat, but thankfully, not in a way that detracts from the gruesomeness of their presentation.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Aldrig i livet is how neatly shorn the mix is when compared to say Misantropologi, while the band still manage to muster a good groovy roil. Over the years, I’ve come to associate Undergang’s sound with a dense thatch of distortion, and what I find surprising is that once this feedback has been partially weeded out, their axes still have an enormous amount of ugly power behind them.
The winding guitar work on “Menneskeæder” feels both hot and sharp, like the sensation of someone practicing calligraphy on your back with a branding iron, while the clarity of the guitars on the punked-up, doom-thrash of “Præfluidum” gives the impression that you’re witnessing a centuries-long duel between agitated banshees on the dunes of a haunted moor.
It’s clear that Undergang take a lot of pride in their song craft on this album, as they should, and that’s likely the reason that we’re hearing less distortion here, so as to not distract from the actual guitar chords being played. It’s a smart move, as the wailing drawl of the guitar solo during the bridge of “Sygelige nydelser (Del 3) Emetofili” attests.
I’m also fond of the clarity with which I can hear the churning, d-beat coiled, rumble of “Indtørret,” which I strongly believe would not have been better served by a shellacking of obfuscating pedal-fuzz, which would have only served to blunt the received angry quality of the track, an aspect that made all the more memorable by its thoughtful articulation, and the fact that you can actually count the individual teeth marks it leaves on your arm.
All that said, vocalist David Mikkelsen’s performance is still completely disgusting. I imagine that he’s an absolute biohazard during every performance, thoroughly painting the room with the contents of his sinuses while he shows up Demilich’s Antti Boman with every croak of his commanding, low-register fry. Of all the elements Undergang has kept from their past records, the gummy character of Mikkelsen’s voice is probably one of the more distinctive and rightfully retained.
When a band changes up their sound, they run the risk of alienating their audience, but something tells me that is not going to be the case with Undergang. What they’ve held over from past records has only made them sound more punishing and extreme, and if those aren’t attributes that you’d crave in Undergang, then I’m not sure why you’d be listening to them in the first place.
Aldrig i livet is a massive evolutionary step forward for the band, one that makes best use of the deadliest strands of death metal that run through their DNA, transforming them from a humble, slime-drooling salamander into an infamously calculating apex predator.
Get a copy of Aldrig i livet on vinyl from Dark Descent here.