Label: El Puerto Records
Genre: Doom Metal
Release Date EU: July 8th, 2022
When Tears Became Scars
Call of the Sin
The Longest Breath
Metal force Undertow is no stranger when it comes to heavy metal from Germany. The band started in 1993 and has eight albums under its belt. The latest one was the smashing ‚Reap the Storm‘ record, which, as each of the earlier records, was a critically acclaimed one.
Four years later Undertow return with the next record. ‚Bipolar‘ is the title of their excellently crafted new album, a longplayer that features great music and some new twists. Undertow was partly described as the German version of Crowbar, which, listening to the earlier releases, has a reason. Over the past years though, the quartet has been stuck to their roots and at the same time added more variety to their music. Sludge, doom, groove, and thrash metal are what the previous release offered. Now the band picks it up where they left off with ‚Reap the Storm‘ and continue their evolving approach.
One of the key ingredients of Undertow is the striking voice of frontman Joschi Baschin. His voice and intonation are so much connected to the sound of Undertow and became a trademark for the band. Another important moment for the quartet was when Markus ‚Brandy‘ Brand joined in 2013. Having him in the band opened a new gate to extra versatility and variation. This blossomed already on the latest album and finds a continuation on the next level on ‚Bipolar‘.
Now, let‘s have a look at what the new songs bring to the plate. It all starts with ‚When Tears Became Scars‘. The band doesn‘t waste any time and starts with full force into their ninth album. The piano-based intro though is the first sign of versatility. Slowly but steadily the opener gains intensity and evolves into a powerful one that deserves the lead-off position. The alternation of heavy and calmer moments shows the songwriting level of the band. ‚On Fire‘ is the next song on the album and a well-chosen deviation from the monumental opener. ‚On Fire‘, the title says it all. Fast and furious, that‘s what the song echoes, a headbanger‘s delight. Number three on this batting order is ‚Life Kills‘, one of the more layered songs that takes a while to show its full potential. Full firepower is what ‚Call of the Sin‘ reflects with the galloping beat and right-into-the-face approach.
The darker side of life echoes with ‚Shadows‘. The beginning reminds me more of an elegy and I hardly have heard Baschin‘s vocals being so intense. It gets under one’s skin. ‚Shadows‘ is the emotional leader on ‚Bipolar‘ together with ‚The Longest Breath‘. The emotional song with a personal real-life connection is a masterpiece in Undertow‘s history and belongs with seven minutes to the longer ones on the album. After those impressive melancholic milestones, it is up to ‚Unstoppable‘ to bring back pure and raw power. A bit thrash-related the tune is a real energizer.
An unexpected moment is a song called ‚Undertow‘. Usually, a band-naming song comes earlier in the career of a band but Undertow is different. The guys waited nearly 20 years to record such a song and it is an instrumental. Now, I mentioned Joschi Baschin‘s voice is an important element for the sound of Undertow but here it isn‘t missing. The song has a depth and intensity that speaks volumes and it was a good decision to stick to an instrumental. 100% Undertow is still represented in the band‘s first instrumental and the song is certainly a highlight on ‚Bipolar‘.
The acoustic guitar starts ‚I Remain‘ and the song stays in this pattern. One could say that it is the Undertow ballad on the album but that would fall too short. ‚I Remain‘ is a dark and emotional song that is kept calm and is touching. It is a tears-triggering moment that has the potential to touch the listener‘s heart. It is another twist on the album and shows the willingness of the band to not stand still. To place such a song at the end of the album instead of having a pulverizing grande finale demands self-confidence and braveness. Undertow has both in their mental toolkit.
Undertow is never really disappointed when it comes to its releases and music. Instead, the band sticks to its roots and builds on its history. ‚Bipolar‘ fits perfectly into this context. The record features 100% Undertow and at the same time marks the next step in the so-far impressive vita of one of the most underrated German metal bands.
Written by: Markus Wiedenmann