Review by Shannon Shumaker
When an eerie introduction brings in Drenge’s new album, Undertow, I’m unsure what to expect, but excited nevertheless. The following ten songs on Undertow prove to be grungy, aggressive, sometimes even psychedelic and full of energy.
The first thing that stands out about Undertow is the way that the vocals seem to mesh seamlessly with the dirty, distorted guitar work. The second song on the album “Running Wild” flows directly from the introduction and into (surprisingly) one of the more mellow songs on the album. The vocals follow the intro well, remaining haunting with a lot of reverb, but it isn’t overkill, and the vocal parts go very well with the main guitar riff. Right off the bat though, the grungy, and sometimes almost muddy sound of the guitar work tends to take away from the band's sound. There are absolutely some very strong guitar riffs on “Running Wild” and the following track, “Never Awake” but they seem to be masked by the muddy quality of the guitar tone, making the songs blend together almost a little too much. It takes a couple of listens to really distinguish these songs from one another.
“We Can Do What We Want,” is definitely the strong breakaway track that is much needed in the beginning of the album. The guitar tone is fuzzy and grungy, but not too much, and the bass is heavy and distorted, but again, it fits the song perfectly. The energetic and aggressive vocals alongside the fast paced guitar work really kick up the energy in this track, which is just what Undertow needed. There’s also a little break about halfway through the song where the bass kicks in, building and building until the song seems to explode, and the outcome is phenomenal.
The following track, “Favourite Son” is another standout, again due to the high energy, raw vocals and smart lyricism. The opening guitar riff hooks you immediately, and the aggressive vocals are what make you stick around for this track. Drenge take a step away from grunge with this track and into punk, and the outcome is not only seamless, but it totally works. Another standout is “Side By Side,” and for different reasons than “Favourite Son” or “We Can Do What We Want.” “Side By Side” is heavily carried by drums and bass, which is a step away from the strong guitar work on much of the album. The vocal harmonies on “Side By Side” are also another strong point, and again, something that isn’t found on many of the other tracks on Undertow.
The title track is totally psychedelic - another step away from the grungy sound established in the beginning of the album, which showcases Drenge’s versatility. Carried heavily by strong bass, drums and fuzzy guitar work, it’s an interesting choice for a title track, as “Undertow” is purely instrumental. However, the unconventional choice totally works. The following track, “Standing In The Cold” is yet another example of Drenge’s versatility, as it is one of the more mellow songs on Undertow. Vocals carry “Standing In The Cold” more than any other song on the album, and the result throws you through yet another loop.
Drenge’s Undertow isn’t without its ups and downs. Some of the tracks on the album are somewhat muted by the muddy quality of the guitar tone (see “Running Wild” and “Never Awake”) but thankfully, there are more strong points on Undertow than weak ones. Versatile songs such as the nearly punk “Favourite Son” and the psychedelic “Undertow” have completely different sounds and moods, but Drenge make it work, and the result is an album that flows surprisingly well.
Listen to "Side By Side" or "Favourite Son"