It’s a familiar trope of lazy, hackneyed critiquing to take the geographical origins of any band you’re lucky enough to review and wrap your 500 words around tired cultural clichés and pass that off as inspired and insightful reviewing. That said, Friendship come from Japan. I must admit I know very little about Japanese culture, having not travelled to the land of the rising sun at this time and my interaction with said culture is limited to business dealings with Japanese based companies in my day job and the films of Takashi Miike and the body horror oeuvre of Shinya Tsukamoto. Consequently, my breadth of cultural reference points are limited when it comes to Japanese culture it would be safe to say that from what I have been exposed to from an entertainment perspective whether it be film, art or music, there is a definite aura of the different, the unexplained and other worldly and Friendship do fall within that bracket despite call backs to bands and musical influences from both the UK and the US.
Undercurrent represents Friendship’s second full length effort and it’s an extreme listen from the get go. Firstly, what is apparent is the low fi nature of the production, it’s a swarming maggot colony of an aural experience, as opening track ‘Vertigo’ slashes its way out the swollen belly of a bloated dead pig smiling as it does, with choppy guitar riffs and blast beats marinating on a bed of barked vocals. It’s extremely tempting at this point to reference a few bands in terms of aural comparisons and I’ll do just that. You can hear the Nails influences all over this and despite what you may think of Nail’s scene bating lack of inclusion politics, there is no argument that although one paced, Nail’s brand of so called ‘Power Violence’ is a brutal and engaging flavour. If this were Friendship’s only flavour then ‘Undercurrent’ would be the ice-cream sundae equivalent of 17 scopes of slightly melted vanilla ice cream eaten with a wooden spoon on a rainy day sitting at the end of Bournemouth pier, covered in seagull dung. But it isn’t. It does draw from the same well as Nails, and that’s fine, but it incorporates other musical ideas which elevate this album to a new level. ‘Plague’ cranks up the pressure, an unholy amalgam of hardcore, death metal and doom. To cram as may genres as they seem to be able to do at will, is one of the highlights on offer here.
At times, as the pace slows, this could be early era Napalm Death with a soupcon of Mastodon here and there, as the blast beats and Grindcore slow and pirouette, segueing into something else before changing tack again. It certainly keeps you on your toes and just as you think you have a handle on where things are going, Friendship pull the hand-break and J-turn you into a dark alley. There are also moments here where the pace slows even further, especially on album closer ‘Hatred’, replete with a slow, dense chugging guitar that recalls Bolthrower, as the band allow the song to sit and stay on a riff so dark and menacing it should come with a public health warning. Overall this is a good album, that deviates just enough from its core influences to keep the listener engaged and invested. It’s a dark and compelling listen that’s dense and brutal and whilst it would be disingenuous to suggest that this is ground-breaking in terms of musical endeavours, this is a heavy and dank collection of songs and having listened to it 5 times now, improves with each listen and in these days of immediate and instant gratification, that’s no bad thing.
(7.5/10 Nick Griffiths)