by Mick Reed
What is friendship? I’ve been asking myself this question since I was young. Why do I have the drive be recognized and welcomed by others? The explanation can be biological or spiritual, depending on who you ask. Either answer on its own feels incomplete and reductive. The answer is that there is no answer. There is just something about human nature that drives us to find our reflection in the eyes of another. To extend our empathy and be counseled in return. To have community. To have family. To build a home on a foundation of trust. Friendship is also a hardcore band from Japan, and they are fucking savage.
I’ve been a fan of Friendship since their early EPs. At that time they were consistently referred to as grindcore, but they’re not a band that sounds anything like Napalm Death. They’re too fast. Too noisy. Too dense. If there is one word that I could pluck out of the lexicon to describe their early work, it would be claustrophobic. These early releases were brief but brutal episodes. Like the tunnels you careen through on a roller coaster. Intermittent periods of extreme darkness that you immerge from miraculously intact. Their first LP Hatred found itself on the same tract. Fast, darksome, and dismal. The fulfillment of a threat made by their early releases, delivered with interest.
How do you follow up a record like Hatred? The answer for Friendship was clear. You don’t. Undercurrent, their second LP, is the product of an entirely separate cast of evil doctrine. Its compositions leap from the speakers to place a hand around your throat like vengeful oni manifesting from folds of a recently translated and cursed scroll. The chord progressions are more muscular. The production is cleaner. The tempos are more incongruous. The clean, ruthless, and deliberate execution of their evolved sound excommunicates the band from the swampy church of grindcore, and frees them to make their new home on the haunted battle field of power violence. Specifically, the school of power violence taught by Chicago’s Harm’s Way and the incomparable Nails.
Undercurrent is the perfect title for the proceedings and captures the lightless, anaerobic, and sinister character which the band has cultivated, while hinting as a ravenous, prying undertow that surges below. This grave making churn is best exemplified by the gripping “Lack” and “Abandon,” two tracks that follow each other in a deadly white-water succession of frothing feedback and slippery, hazardous rhythms. Tracks like “Plague” point to a new direction for the band's old noise-core allegiances, with concussive Converge-esque chords and a meat-hammer drum work. The spin contorting rhythm changes and the body checking thrust of the appropriately named “Punishment” gives you that dose of Harm’s Way your masochistic little brain was pining for, while the ember stoking drum fills and wind-stealing, tackling grooves of “Vertigo” cements their place amongst their violence powered peers. It’s a viciously coherent and potently forthright album that handily continues Friendship’s burgeoning legacy of grit steeped angst.
We’re all driven by needs that we don’t fully comprehend. Needs that can’t be ignored, and won’t subside regardless of how thoroughly they are neglected. These things that drive us, can cause us to become closer. They may also drive us apart. Gripping you by the foot and dragging you, clawing, into the maw of isolation. Friendship is the drive for connection in a disparate world, but when you are betrayed. When your social ties are strained due to illness or misfortune. When are your bonds to others are broken due to cruelty, mishap, or depression, the place you fall with no net to catch you is where Undercurrent dwells. A watery grave beneath the silt of a tainted riverbed. A place where the warmth of humanity is as foreign as the depths of the earth.