When it comes to the music lurking in our humble halls, we Villagers have been happy, as of late, to abide in the presence of doom and gloom. But all things must change, and today's change comes in the form of...an alt-rock ballad? Not our typical fare, but upon receiving this track some time back, I was quite taken with its deceptively confident approach and (equally deceptive) replayability.
Said track--"Dragon Of The West"--comes to us courtesy of one Underking, a versatile outfit that, by virtue of seemingly disparate influences, is actually a little hard to describe in a quick sound-bite. Their early stuff is more classically "metal," but this track delves deep into the mellow waters of the emotive rock ballad--promo material mentions both Meat Loaf and Judas Priest's softer side, which certainly applies, albeit with a significant orchestral bent. As if that wasn't enough, this thing is inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender. And, like, it has a wicked cool visualizer. Sign me up.
Rather than scaring you all away with excessive explanation, how about you just give it a listen for yourself? Check out the subtly mighty "Dragon Of The West" below, and, once you've had your fill, I'll meet you on the other side.
So. The first item of note: those vocals are pretty damn good. So damn good, in fact, that I could easily stand to listen to a full album's worth of this stuff. And that, my friends, is a rare occurrence in a world in which ballads all-too-oft serve to break up the mid-tempo rockers. These are some truly crisp cleans, recalling--in emotive power if not necessarily in tone--the epic narrative clarity of Hansi or Dream Troll's Paul Walsh. Sometimes people sound downright silly when leaning into the emotional weight of a track's protagonist, but not so here. A believable narrator is a rare quality, and Underking created a story something worth investing in, in only for six minutes. It helps that the source material ain't too shabby, but c'mon. Credit where credit is due. These are some stellar vocals (and lyrics, by extension!)
Second item of note: the composition itself. Like Uncle Iroh, from whom Underking takes inspiration, this track carries itself with a wise and confident sentimentality. Nothing feels rushed, but neither does it feel overly languid or drawn out. A place for everything, and everything in it's place. Frankly, this seems like the work of a band with many, many ballads under their belt. Underking seem to have streamlined the process in a remarkably short span, figuring out how to approach lighter fare without delving into sappiness or melodrama. The solo is nice and understated, and the general light-footed air contrasts nicely with the (killer) chorus, which ramps up before swooping back down, allowing the vocals to appropriately shine.
Taking both this track and their past work into account, Underking seems to be a bit of a musical China Miéville, opting to produce stellar work across a variety of genres. Regardless of where they go next, I'm of the mind that this was a fantastic stopping place along the way. Very few bands can nail an alt-rock ballad so wonderfully, and that accomplishment alone should indicate just how talented Underking are. Keep your eye out for 'em.
And listen to that track again--it deserves a second spin.
Underking - Dragon Of The West was released today, Sept. 18th, 2020
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.
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