Undersave – Sadistic Iterations… Tales of Mental Rearrangement
It has been six years since the last Undersave album during which the both the band and the death metal genre have undergone great change. At the time of Now… Submit your Flesh to the Master’s Imagination, the genre was in the midst of its second wind as the combined forces of the “old school” and dissonant death metal movements were rising in power and prominence. They provided a darker alternative emphasizing sinister atmospheres and unsettling riffing than the more immediate gratification impact-oriented modern death metal styles. Often embodied in their extremes and excesses by the brutal and technical subgenres, the modern approach had exploded in popularity at the turn of the millennium and for years seemed indomitable until bands like Svart Crown, Dead Congregation, Necrovation, Repugnant, Abyssal (UK) and other practitioners of arts once obscure and otherworldly rose in number and influence. Amidst this period of great change and upheaval, a little known Portuguese band had begun to undergo a metamorphosis that would give rise to one of the most creative albums that crafted its own distinct vision unto this violent intra-genre free for all.
Undersave’s origins are interesting; their debut demo from 2005 is a stompy and somewhat sloppy take on classic American style death metal but in 2008 they would tighten up considerably with a blast heavy sound that hinted at the influence of bands like Deeds of Flesh and Nile used to augment the sinister texture of older Suffocation and Morbid Angel. Come 2012 as death metal was on the cusp of its massive renaissance and they underwent yet another transformation, this time far more drastic than before. In spite of being reduced to founding member Nuno Braz and new drummer Hugo Pote the band had sounded more creative than ever before. Now… Submit your Flesh to the Master’s Imagination has been described by some as a new technical death metal album in an old school style but this doesn’t capture its multifaceted nature very well. It was replete with towering and hypnotic structures, balancing moments of pensive and undulating repetition against sudden incursions of vicious riffing that violently tore one out of the comfort of its doomier portions. Eerie leads slithered and crept like centipedes over a rushing barrage of percussion, at ease with undulating rolling patterns as much as hammerheaded blasting, important in disorienting the listener through sickening, nauseatingly inhuman structures that appeared to methodically dissect themselves with each new growth chewing its way through the convoluted morass. Sadly, in spite of their immense ambitions, Undersave would receive almost no recognition in the crowded genre even as one of the finest underground practitioners and once again, the line-up would dissolve.
Perhaps the sepulchral depths where they resided were still not fully aware of the many possibilities that existed beyond the modern, traditional and dissonant schools but in the six years since, the alien realms they peered into have been further explored albeit by a small but highly creative group. Ghoulgotha, StarGazer, Zealotry, Auroch, Blood Incantation, Nex Carnis, Kerasphorus, VoidCeremony, The Chasm, and Unaussprechlichen Kulten among a few others have created a kind of “progressive” and “avant-garde” approach death metal I simply describe as “eldritch” that has avoided the self-indulgent decadence and narrow applications of eclectic influences that typically ensue for those specific subgenres. It coexists with a movement of psychedelic death metal exemplified by Diskord, Obliteration, recent Cadaveric Fumes, second album Necrovation, Cult of the Head, Temisto, recent Ghastly, and of course, Morbus Chron and Tribulation’s later material. Undersave ultimately belong in the former grouping (admittedly both are fairly wide reaching and general) but it is in this particular climate that they now find themselves not only as members but also pioneers and innovators. While they still may be a new name to most, their ambitions speak of experience and finesse far surpassing many better-known bands across multiple stylistic boundaries by light years.
Compared to a fair share of other death metal, their debut included, Sadistic Iterations...Tales of Mental Rearrangement does not sound like a typically very riffy album. Much of it is made of lengthy shimmering phrases often set at the upper registers and featuring a fair share of layered harmony. Much of it doesn’t sound too complicated by itself but they stretch many of these riffs out into lengthy textures where tonality and phrasing distorts and mutates rapidly yet in a smooth execution, purposefully blurring into one another. Rather than aimlessness, the effect is one of nebulous ambiguity as familiar concepts reappear before rapidly decomposing, swallowed by the gradually undulating brood of coiling riffs which they formed and to which they are now returned. It’s atmospheric not just through its unusual technique but also how that plays into and even defines structure. Very little of it is percussive, mostly preferring quickly picked and often tremolo style riffing but equally comfortable with nimbly articulated leads that expand on tonal space and character and jagged, angular chords that fracture and deform rhythmic topography. A notable degree of polyphony also has entered their sound, adding a bizarre effect akin to seeing a distorted reflection over a lake. Both guitars often will play parts that sound similar at but are altered with a few key notes between them, leading to a sense of uncertainty hovering behind each one. None of the six tracks are shorter than six minutes; each one is a veritable small ecosystem of carefully paced technical playing and disturbingly psychedelic transitions between individual themes with very little “normal” parts.
Structurally, the album emphasizes the fundamental conflict between progression and development less than its predecessor and instead goes for a nightmarishly surreal approach to the “narrative” style of structure of late 2000’s onwards death metal. Conventionally over-arching themes aren’t as emphasized as much as a cerebral push-pull mechanic between rigorous consistency and aggressive divergence. Tracks work through multiple layers intersecting with one another through changes in pacing, consonance (or the lack thereof), and phrasing all of which work both in tandem and opposition to one another. Smoother flowing phrases are morphed into knotted and curling deformities, malformed rhythms break down into slower leads that mockingly resolve frenzied tension with shifty dissonance, and familiar riffs reappear seemingly with the intent of reassurance only to be ruptured into nothingness by murderous blasting underneath frantically clawing patterns. All of these seeming contradictions work together in forming a bigger conflicting picture; each one is both a thesis stating its intent and the next a mocking counter-argument to the other. It evolves through a constant conflict in each track; sometimes understated and almost unusually calm and others incessantly aggressive and contemptuous. This forms an atmosphere of sickening internal doubt and cold, suicidal nonchalance. Sadistic Iterations… is very self aware in this case, knowing what makes us tick and what we find comfortable and reassuring but showing not the slightest of mercy as it cruelly steals it away before tossing one into a sea of hungry madness, ever content to remain in a state of self-devouring paranoia.
On a level of musicianship, the band might not be particularly impressive at first but they have honed their skills to very specific purposes. The guitar sorceries Nuno Braz and João Jacinto manifest in a variety of unusual forms that better communicate spaciousness and tension in how focused it has become. The most notable addition is a healthy dose of more varied tonality, especially Voivod or even Gorguts esque abstract chords jangling at the ends of many phrases or hovering during slower segments. Also ear-catching are elaborate single string motions like Zealotry and Unaussprechlichen Kulten demonstrate no hard loyalty to consonance or dissonance, wandering through both realms centipede-like in their agility and dexterity. Renato Laia’s bass slides behind guitar during the primary rhythmic thrust of each track but leans in to harmonize at key points but mostly adds a denser sense of weight to their sound. Pedro Pereira’s drumming is more calculated with its concisely executed rolls than Hugo’s industrialized pounding. While not immediately gripping in intensity or complexity, his sparseness isn’t antithetical to the band’s ornate approach to structure, knowing when to fold into the thrust of a song as well as to how to gradually break up and shift his patterns. Nuno’s voice sounds a step or so deeper than it used to but he frequently uses a middle-to-higher pitched scream with a deranged semi Chris Reifert (Autopsy) style character to contrast his basement-level guttural voice which does a lot to sell the album’s cold and multifaceted intentions.
Now signed onto Chaos Records and with a full line-up, Undersave’s chances at greater exposure and recognition will hopefully be higher as the audience willing to explore death metal’s weirder side grows larger by the month. While the album occasionally is a bit too drawn out for its own good and songs can blur into one another, it maintain enough forcefulness under its exterior of ethereal detachment to stop it from becoming a formlessly wafting mess. Whereas their prior album still had notable connections to earlier 90’s death metal, they have severed all of them for this sophomore yet still avoid sounding like a modernist or dissonant band. They are too varied in their intent and intensity for the former, too varied in their tonal phrasings for the latter, but replete with a refreshing variety of atmospheres and labyrinthinely formed songwriting that finds them a very select group of equals today. The album admittedly does feel like an experiment with new songwriting practices no doubt having gestated for six years but it promises much in the way of new opportunities for the disturbing visions of Nuno and his newfound group of explorers staring down into the depths of both self and beyond. For those who prefer the violence of death metal to be directed inwards to the parts of the human consciousness we think are sacred and safe, this album will satisfy you in the most unwholesome of ways.