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Undertow Alex Flood , April 16th, 2015 12:21

Still riding the wave of critical adoration their self-titled album afforded them in 2013, Drenge's Loveless brothers – Eoin and Rory – have said they want Undertow to be "a better attempt" at communicating the thrill of their live show. Odd then, that the overriding feeling upon firing up opener 'Introduction' – a swirling instrumental mass of Twin Peaks synths and haunting bass reverb – is one of considered complexity. It's by no means a bad thing; layers of sound have been added to what was previously a nasty, feral racket.

Next up is 'Running Wild', and Drenge are doing just that. Flitting between melancholic guitar hooks and insistent, rumbling basslines Eoin drawls indifferently over a sinister soundscape. It seems we're in business, only we're not, because at this moment commanding officer Loveless gets cold feet and orders his foot soldiers of the ninth song-writing battalion to do an about turn back to basecamp, where rations are to be limited once-again to simplistic alt-punk rock. Short, sharp and loud is the order of the day, and although some reasonably exciting stuff is discerned throughout 'Never Awake', 'Favourite Son' and 'The Snake', it's hard not to be left cold after the promise of the album's opening salvo. It's not that these tracks are bad, on the contrary more of the same from the band's thrilling debut would be welcome, it's just that more is expected on the second outing, and much of Undertow is standard metal fare.

This weight of expectation and how one reacts to it is a theme that features heavily throughout. Eoin howls defiantly on the Ramones-esque 'We Can Do What We Want', attempting to wrest ownership of the band's music back from the cold, lifeless hands of the media. All before reminding everyone just exactly who they're messing with on the standout 'Have You Forgotten My Name?'

Miscommunication is a real problem for a band so obviously absorbed by their own youthful anger, and you get the feeling they don't think anyone really gets them. Especially on the slow-burning 'Never Awake', where Eoin croons, "It's so hard to get through. It's so hard to talk to you". The saving grace for what is a confused yet interesting work, is a return to experimentation on the final few tracks. Quivering guitar reverb on the instrumental title track evokes images of church graveyards, and the hellish rumblings of bass and kick-drum give it a funeral-like restlessness.

'Standing In The Cold' mixes melancholic hooks with simplistic repeated riffs to create a five-minute opus that sits somewhere between debauched bar-room singalong and eerie chamber choir rehearsal. Closer 'Have You Forgotten My Name' is able to retain the insistent, building anger of the original Drenge sound, while adding complexity and a thoughtful self-reflection that has been heretofore lacking.

Overall, Undertow should leave a rather bemused expression on the face of a listener. A whole hunk of simple-yet-enjoyable gritty rock & roll is bookended by more than a few tracks which really engross and reward anyone willing to get stuck in for long enough. Drenge definitely try something admirable at points on this record, producing some increasingly textured and intriguing music, but old habits die hard and they tend to drift back to what they know best. In short, a solid enough second effort with some promise for a more expansive third.