Dan Hallam of Underdark talks about the bands inner turmoil, growing up in Mansfield & their new album.
Whilst hailing from the East Midlands may not wield the same esoteric clout in black metal circles as Oslo or Bergen, there’s clearly something radical bubbling in the grimy waters of the Maun. Underdark have been quietly building momentum with a sound that lingers at the crossroads where the harsh aesthetics of black metal conspire with the dreamy melancholy of shoegaze. We caught up with drummer Dan Hallam to discuss their latest release “With Bruised & Bloodied Feet”, discovering punk as a youngster and the importance of fighting back….
Dan I know nothing about your origins in heavy music. How did you discover hardcore/punk/black metal and how did you wind up drumming in Underdark?
Being completely honest: I wasn’t into music at all until my early teens. My mate Niall gave me some headphones playing American Idiot by Green Day (which had only just came out) and went “Get this down ya!” It was honestly like having my whole world shattered and rebuilt in front of me within those couple of minutes.
I fell in love with Death Metal & Grindcore in my mid teens, mainly because I loved anything that sounded extreme and/or completely ridiculous, which led to discovering Converge (who I still consider the best band to ever fucking do it) although at that time, I didn’t realise they was considered a hardcore band. Somehow ended up discovering more hardcore bands through friends, and started attending hardcore shows locally and across the UK. Basically anywhere that had a decent line-up, you could guarantee I’d be stood at the back trying to not get my head caved in by some Neanderthal looking geezer in the pit.
To be brutally honest again: I never got into black metal at all until Underdark started. Bar Deafheaven and liking a couple of Behemoth tracks when I was younger, I thought grown men wearing corpse paint and writing super serious songs about goblins and shit was absolute jokes (still do). Very shortly after, Ollie got in touch about starting a band like Deafheaven & Envy.
Since starting Underdark I’ve discovered plenty of black metal bands that I do love, so there’s been some personal growth at the very least! Taking stances in hardcore seemed to die out a lot in the late 90’s with the demise of the straight edge scene of the time and a shift towards nihilism and hopelessness. Sure the punks and crusts were vocal and active but to my eyes straight edge and hardcore stopped being a revolutionary force and became a lot more self-indulgent.
Things change and I accept that but do you think hardcore has any capacity to be the voice of change now that it’s arguably bigger and more accessible than ever? That whole nihilistic/hopeless style of hardcore was a personal favourite for me at the time! Even got the token American Nightmare logo tattoo to prove it. Back on point however: I absolutely do.
One of the things I learnt early on going to local/DIY shows was how these anti-racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic etc values were at the core of its’ very being so to speak, so for people to be involved and think any different completely baffles me. It’s great to see artists both big and small using their platforms to raise these issues. There are plenty of outspoken bands already (Venom Prison, Dawn Ray’d, Incendiary, Svalbard to name a couple) with more coming out to make their beliefs well known.
Whilst being an on-going thing, I believe social movements like BLM and currents events have helped brings these issues to the forefront of everyone’s mind, or the current political/social climate has made people want to take a stand on these issues, which is great to see such solidarity. The main thing to remember is if you can change one person’s mind or get them thinking about these issues through your music then you’ve made a change. This does work, if it wasn’t for seeing xRepentancex talk about animal rights issues I’d never have gone vegetarian (now vegan) or have any idea about anti-fascism or anarchism if it wasn’t for Dawn Ray’d.
Alongside Dawn Ray’d, Underdark has been a consistent and outspoken opponent of right wing nonsense, particularly within the black metal scene. Have you experienced much push back from audiences due to your no tolerance stance?
Since our inception we have been. I didn’t even know the actual extent of black metal’s ties with racism until Underdark had been practising for nearly a month. Naturally as five individuals who are outspoken against any forms of hate & division, we have no quarrels making that public knowledge and making our stances on said issues known.
It may not be at the absolute forefront of our music & existence compared to other artists, but I do believe it to be an important part of Underdark. Again compared to what a lot of our friends with similar outspoken views, we’ve had it easy. We’ve only really had two incidents online where we’ve received some backlash. One being some guy threatening to run us over with his 4×4 days after Heather Heyer was killed in that ‘unite the Right’ Rally in Charlottesvile. The other was some black metal nerds kicking off about the Kerrang article featuring us, Dawn Ray’d, Neckbeard Deathcamp & Glacial Tomb labelling us “The new wave of Anti-fascist heavy metal”, that was fucking hilarious watching these basement dwellers frothing at the mouth over this.
We’ve never had any trouble in personal unsurprisingly; everyone’s an Internet hardman nowadays. If we get any trouble online, it’s a straight up ban soon as we see it to be honest. We’re not going to give you the space to peddle what bullshit vitriol and opinions you have on our stuff. It stops other people having to read it as well. We’re not going to debate anyone who comes to stir shit, purely cause they’re not there to debate in the first place. They’re too busy rolling around in their own ignorance and shit to consider anyone else’s viewpoint, so why bother entertaining them?
What kind of people are warming up to Underdark….I’m curious if it’s causing old metal heads to take an interest or whether your fans are coming from a new demographic attracted by your politics rather than the music?
It’s hard to pin a demographic from where we’re stood to be honest. Sometimes when we first started we’d play black metal shows and be told it’s too screamo. We’d play screamo shows and be told it’s too post metal. Then we’d play post metal shows and be told it’s too black metal?
But then with that point, we can safely say we can play that whole variety of shows and more, and come out with some new fans. The only weird ones that come to mind is playing a full on slam/brutal death metal show for our 3rd ever show and the room just clearing the fuck out soon as we started playing.
Or the hardcore shows where a few hardcore kids were waiting for the mosh parts to happen… I believe we do get a fair few fans who see/read about our politics first, which isn’t a bad thing, as I say “come for the politics stay for the riffs”. Sure we get a few people who couldn’t give a shit about our political stances and that but that isn’t a problem with us unless you start trying to cause shit.
After saying all that, we do love playing the more metal shows & line-ups, as people tend to get a bit more active during our sets. Always fun to look up from the kit to see people having fun instead of having their hands glued to their pockets.
I always like to ask about the regionality people grew up in and how provincial towns shape attitudes and perspectives…
Growing up and living in Mansfield “The arsehole of the UK” so many of it’s residents refer to it as (I prefer Mans Vegas or Manny T) you’d think I’d have a lot of interesting stories, but sadly not. Being an ex mining town, it’s been hit hard by job losses & tory cutbacks.
Only for it to have a high pro-brexit vote and voting in the Conservative boot-licking shithead Ben Bradley in TWICE (Famous for being quoted on his own blog about having poor people sterilised so they can’t breed)
In a nutshell, Mansfield is both rough as fuck and thick as fuck.
Whats next for Underdark, Is there plans to tour (Covid Permitting) Maybe an LP?
Pre-covid lockdown, we had two weekenders booked and loads of other dates in the pipeline. Naturally these all went to shit. So gig-wise: we plan on hitting 2021 harder than we originally planned if Covid permits once again. If it’s looking like things are relatively normal we’ll look into rebooking those weekenders and possible plans to go across to the mainland once again, as the last time we went over was fucking incredible.
We actually have had a full LP fully recorded for a while now! We’re perfectionists to say the least so we’ve been pretty meticulous about the mixes, mastering and general release of it. We were planning to release it this year but Covid fucked that up for us again.
Correct me if I’m wrong but the Plainsong/With Bruised and Bloodied feet EP is the first release with Abi singing? What circumstances led to previous vocalist Max’s departure and was there a period of doubt about the bands ability to continue? How have the fans reacted to the change in vocalist?
That is correct. This single of sorts isn’t the plan we had to debut Abi’s talents to the (outside UK DIY) world but we had to adapt to what we found ourselves dealing with post Covid. Ideally the album would be sat on your record shelves right now, but sadly not. We wanted to have some form of release out this year, so we thought we’d have some fun and go record a cover of one of our favourite Cure tracks and one of our favourite older tracks.
We had a good run with Max, but it was clear toward the last year or two he was around that he just wasn’t as into it as we were. It got to the point where we’d miss out on gig opportunities because we couldn’t get answers about it, or pulling a couple of gigs due to ‘illness’. It all came to a head when we missed out on some support slots with a band we’re fans of and look up to because of this that we sat down and had a word about it, only for Max to up and leave. To be brutally honest: it was proper shit and the four of us were gutted despite what we said. Honestly thought that was the end of Underdark there and then. We went to the pub a few days after to discuss what went down and where do we go, which we decided to carry it on cause we’ve worked so hard towards it.
After trying a couple of friends out, Abi comes in and smashes it from the get go, and left that practise a full time member. We announced Abi joining a few months after she actually joined so we could get things in order, announcing her joining a couple of hours before performing her first show with us. She’s got such a massive range of vocals (style and pitch) throws so many good ideas when it comes to anything involving the band, and is always super enthusiastic. Overall: She’s an absolute legend.
Speaking of Svalbard, obviously they were on Holy Roar until very recently. What are your thoughts on the news regarding the label owner’s behaviours and the subsequent reaction from the underground community?
As someone who’s been buying Holy Roar releases since his mid teens, who pretty much introduced me to UK underground metal/punk/HXC, I’m disgusted by the abhorrent and destructive behaviours of it’s now previous owner.
Absolutely zero tolerance towards abusers of any kind. My heart goes out to the brave individuals who spoke out against him; I can’t begin to imagine the shit they’ve been through.
The reaction and distancing from artists, employees and supporters, regardless of how it’d affect themselves or their careers is hugely commendable. Goes to show there is such a thing as solidarity within the scene, although one thing that did make me angry was a few comments from individuals saying, “Oh I’ve always known he was a bit dodgy” and the like. If you were aware of this, why has it taken you this long to fucking say something? I know it’s not as black and white as I’ve put out there, but still. Fucking ludicrous.
That’s it. Thanks a lot Dan, you have the final word.
Shout out to any individuals involved in anti-fascist movements. Be it an artist, band, activist group, hunt sabs, or a lone individual willing to stand up for what’s right. Endless support and solidarity to you all.