Tasmanian black metal masters Ruins have released their fifth album, Undercurrent, and it is a mesmerizingly dark masterpiece of black metal. The compositional craftsmanship on Undercurrent is incredible, what it achieves in nine relatively short tracks is phenomenal, there is nothing overstated or out of place. Each track is able to stand majestically alone, but the entire album is a collectively strong sequence of that support its profound narrative arch. To try and capture this simply, Undercurrent is an intriguing and nihilistic journey through the eyes of a modern pagan into the timeless nature and inherent crisis of Man.
Opening with a deeply unsettling sonic drone-like intro, Shadow of a Former Self expounds from the outset - the pagan rage that humanity has become estranged from its primal roots and trapped by the shortcomings of modern civilisation. Shadow of a Former Self ranges musically from edgy and sparse to fast and angry, closing with a gritty, energetic blackened-thrash final movement. Crossroads is a catchy song with a perpetually unresolved signature riff that invokes an Odinistic encounter and provides something of a nexus point in Undercurrent’s concept, between present and past.
Undercurrent then flows into its midsection with a series of soul-searing tracks that drip with powerful allegorical references. A classic black metal track, Rites of Spring opens with one of my favourite lyric sections of the whole album, recalling Stravinsky’s controversial ballet, to challenge primitivist fascination with the pagan past reiterating that true paganism is alive and far from idyllic. Dave Haley delivers a thundering performance on the drums throughout Undercurrent, working through impressive series of complex rhythmic sequences and Rites of Spring is but one example of this. Rites of Spring burns with latent violence in a track that makes for a fiery-dark live number.
If I had to pick a favourite track on Undercurrent, Faust would be a strong contender, with the captivating guitars of Joe Haley and enticing pace build up from mid-speed and profound to frenetic mind-blowing speed. Faust is a short but immersive song that captures one of the main themes of Undercurrent, namely the classic Faustian duality of Man between his lofty religious and intellectual inclination and his nature-dictated desires.
When it comes to black metal word-weavers, Alex Pope is one of the best-articulated vocalists, and most poetic lyricists to take on the ‘timelessness of paganism’ and ‘critique of modernity’ theme and he does so on Undercurrent with clarity and conviction. This is evident in Faust as Pope skilfully captures Faust’s infamous internal conflict and in the following epic track Fires of The Battlefield to Survive that dynamically wanes at some points to practically incantation-pace spoken word. A desolate outro leads into the ominous overtones of Certainty the Adversary, a memorable track that brutally recounts the Fall of Man, one of the heavier tracks on Undercurrent.
The title track Undercurrent resituates the listener with the present-day struggle against the false constructions of modernity, essentially the call-to-action of the album. The thick, bleak, menacing riffs of Filled with Contempt mount an anthem of anger and solidarity as transfixing guitars and accelerating drums build up to empty, dismal, forlorn piano outro. The final track Symbols from Intent has quite an old-school grim sound to it as it blasts Undercurrent to it final, eerie toll.
Overall, Undercurrent is subtly brilliant. The more you listen to it the more depth becomes apparent. Ruins have procured an album that is technically astounding, grim as sin and conceptually sophisticated. Undercurrent is an intensive onslaught for the ears, and a feast for the mind. Undercurrent is out now.