Underhill: Silent Siren
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Silent Siren is an album of many faces, but then again how could it be otherwise when so many disparate personalities and influences are involved in the Underhill project, which features vocals by Martina Astner (of the goth-metal outfit Therion) and MC Coppa (Marvin Hay, whose voice has appeared in drum'n'bass, dubstep, and hip-hop contexts) and music written by Dean Rodell, Ivan Shopov, and Tim Elliot. In the opening three songs alone, trip-hop, dubstep, and ska surface, but often woven together so as to render genre labeling an even more challenging proposition. That trend carries on throughout the album, as shown by tracks like “Black Sun Butterfly,” which has its feet equally planted in dubstep and ska.

“Night Lines” inaugurates the album with a polished overture of downtempo dubstep wobble before vocal elements surface in “Blind,” which oozes the foreboding angst of a prototypical Portishead ballad, though Astner's clear-throated voice is considerably less anguished than Beth Gibbons's. Elsewhere, one might hear echoes of an outfit like Dead Can Dance in the gothic atmospheres of “My Shadow,” for instance. Astner and Hay share vocal duties, with her at the forefront of some songs (“Blind”) and Hay others (“Law Enforcement”), and it's the contrast between her crystal-clear delivery and his rough-edged attack that in parts lends Underhill its distinctive sound; sometimes, as in the epic title track, the vocals are split equally between them. In one particularly memorable moment, Astner's voice soars dramatically during “The Miss” in a way that calls to mind the equally pure voice of Renaissance's Annie Haslam.

The quintet brings the noise on a number of occasions (“Civil Lies,” “Creator”), and Silent Siren includes no small number of heavier tracks, such as the nightmarish “Rivers of Hades” and light-speed, drum'n'bass-powered “Solace.” If there's a weakness to this debut album, it's simply one of excess. As the vinyl version's twelve tracks offer a perfectly adequate account of the group and its music, the CD presentation would have been better had it followed its lead rather than add two instrumentals and three remixes (by Balkansky, The Sect, and Bong-Ra) to the release.

May 2012