Album Review: Deep Underground | Relapse
Written by Emeri Devante
It’s seems we’ve been provided another debut album to throw #IntoThePitWithAnnie. As Annie’s trusted right hand, let’s joyride down this album review together and welcome some first-timers to the #IntoThePitUniverse. Deep Underground, hailing from Alajuela, Costa Rica has begun to capture a growing bilingual fanbase, as well as become fluent in a progressive, metalcore mashup. The 10 song LP, Relapse is their first long-form project and as far as packaging a product for the people, it fits the bill. Not only does it have a well designed album cover, but the band’s performance on this record speaks volumes about their potential for future fan reach. When receiving debut or early albums to review, I believe the most value we in the #IntoThePitUniverse could provide would be laying out paths and opportunities for growth. #IntoThePitWithAnnie gets absolutely NOTHING from tearing a band down without rhyme or reason. The obvious goal for us is to provide insightful and genuine opinions with clear and constructive reasons behind them, thus providing value. If they do help the band then it’s a win-win! The group ends up sounding even more awesome which leads to more fans, which leads to them coming out to Las Vegas where we’d hope to gain an exceptional interview and experience for the #IntoThePitUniverse. See.. EVERYBODY wins! With that being said, it’s time to provide a breakdown of Deep Underground’s debut album, Relapse.
Let’s Dive In!
Starting off with the melodic elements, the band did a quality job of keeping me immersed into their musical world. Intro’s and transitions were smooth across the board allowing their sound to be fairly consistent record to record. It’s a given that most instruments such as lead guitars and basses are going to feel and sound similar song to song, but even the keyboardist, Sebastian Barrantes utilized the same 3 or 4 choirs, pads, and synths for most of the album. When done well, it keeps the melodic environment the same throughout the project which ideally is what most bands want. The one thing I’d recommend for the next project is utilizing those sounds on less than half of the album and then dive into a whole new arsenal of choirs and synths that give the sound a new edge. Try spreading the similar songs throughout the beginning and middle of the new album and what you’ll do is give fans and listeners who’ve heard the previous project familiarity while introducing new listeners to the original sound. By the time everyone is halfway through the new project, you’ve begun a fresh approach and created a new world of listening by the end of the album.
As far as the vocal production for Relapse, it was really straight forward overall by staying in your face with it’s death-metal style delivery. Lead singer, Gabriel Martinez had a professional grasp over his upper and lower screaming technique throughout the length of the project. When needed he produced a clean, modern, more progressive rocker tone which worked well over the current instrumentation. The main area of growth for vocals I see are mainly in the mixing portion of the project, so I’ll touch on that shortly.
Guitarist and bassist, Andrés Maroto and Leonardo Hidalgo held their own throughout Relapse with a few showcased solo sections laced through the records. The main insight I’d like to provide towards their performances are just to be the death metal rockstars you naturally are! Invest in your craft by getting better sounding gear and keep learning new techniques, fingerings, and riffs. If you’re unable to upgrade to a new axe, strictly upgrade the pickups on your current one. Volunteer for an extra solo or a feature in the next project to showcase new techniques you’ve learned. Always remember that growth comes from doing things outside of your comfort zone.
As far as rhythmic elements go, I’d consider them consistently in the pocket for a majority of the record. Drummer, Eduardo “Tato” Chaves drove this record into it’s own “relapse” with back to back intense, heavy metal, 16th note destruction. His tom and bass drum patterns kept the metalcore feel prominent and transitioned into more melodic rhythms appropriately for each song that required it. We at #IntoThePitWithAnnie wish this story were brighter, but we were saddened to hear that the drummer on this album has passed away. We send our condolences to the band and the family of Tato. Daniel Falla is the replacing drummer for the group and the opportunity for growth we’d like to contribute towards future projects would be similar to my advice for the guitar and bassist. Now that the group has walked through the gates of being a studio recording group, simply invest into your craft. Learn a new hi hat and ride rhythm. Take an extra gig so you can drop all of it on new heads and sticks. Get different types of gear that make your sound heavier and fuller or lighter when it needs to be. The little things matter, especially when you take your kit into the booth to record. Production-wise, Deep Underground has created at reputable starting foundation. With a growth mindset, the success of a new project will attract more listeners to the core fanbase thus extending the active lifetime of the band.
Production Score: 3.6/5
Into The Mix:
Mix-wise, the Relapse LP was a safe mix all around. In other words, if you’re blasting the project on a sound system you can crank the hell out of, it’s going to sound more than fine to the average listener. It’ll get you amped up enough to air-drum in your favorite spots and feel the message in the true death metal vocal production. You’ll feel chill enough to vibe out in the melodic spots and move throughout the project seamlessly as a metal mashup lover. When I call the mix on Relapse, “safe”, it means that there were few if any successful risk being taken on the mixing front.
A mixing engineer’s job is to take the elements provided by the band, and paint them into a masterpiece using various techniques in his arsenal. Every element was mixed to be clean and heard in this LP, but the use of vocal and instrumental effects are rare. For example, there were plenty of opportunities to utilize high-pass, filtered effects on the main scream tracks. There were a plethora of sections where reverb’s could’ve been automated to fill the musical space at the end of a vocal performance. Personally, it would’ve been nice to have heard a slight difference in the mixing between the lower and the higher screams provided by Martinez. Instead it sounded as though the mixing engineer had them on one track and provided them a general blanket mix that loosely tailored both. That technique works fine for a live show when that’s what’s mandatory or demo recording with a lack of funding, but on full-length records that can be replayed over and over, it had me wanting to hear more instead of just an “in your face” vocal. Same theory can be placed on the guitar and bass tracks but luckily those are easier to get away with due to their supporting nature in music.
If the band evolves further with deeper vocal and instrumental production, the mixing engineer should definitely want to be along for the ride by complimenting their growth with more enriched mixing strategies.
Again, to give credit where credit is due, the mix on the album was clean and ideal for a debut project. To take it a step further, my favorite mixing elements were on the drums. It’s obvious some tender love and care was provided in recording and mixing Daniel Falla’s performance. The stereo imaging, more specifically the panning of the tom rolls as well as the cymbal width was mixed very well and helped anchor the driving force of the mix. This album had a solid mix overall with plenty of opportunities to improve which is always good to hear for a first time release.
Mix Score. 3.1/5
A Mastered Experience:
Having been on both ends of the mastering process, there’s one thing that I look for when critiquing a mastered record or project..
Can I listen to this project from top to bottom and it sound cohesive all the way through?
Answering this question for Deep Underground’s debut album, I’m inclined to say this was a cohesive LP front to back. Returning to my opening statements, Deep Underground did a quality job of creating their own world through the music. This was accomplished not only in the production stage of the process, but by way of the mastering engineer’s work as well. It’s apparent that this wasn’t his first mastered project and it showed throughout the collection by the consistency between songs. The high frequencies resonated well through all of my preferred listening devices from track to track and when the volume was increased, the lows were full enough to move through you. The greatest masters tend to add a significant perceived weight to the collective of frequencies being performed and that desired heaviness was not yet achieved on this project. That may have been in part due to the relatively laid back mix preceding the mastering phase. Regardless of how heavy and full the LP felt, musically it held it’s own and the master on the album contributed to that.
Master Score: 3.8/5
I’d like to congratulate Deep Underground on the successful completion and release of their debut album. Relapse is a great foundational stepping stone toward being known and respected amongst fans and other bands in the genre. Coming out of Costa Rica, there are so many doors than can be opened by embracing the bilingual fan base, not only marketing-wise but musically as well. It’s 2018 where everyone is becoming more and more connected on a daily basis, so take advantage of that. Be open to doing Spanish versions of songs, or Spanish titles sprinkled throughout future projects. By the looks of it, your Spanish fanbase is embracing your growth, so embracing them in return is only natural. I’m not implying drop full Spanish performed projects, but with how quick distribution is nowadays with Spotify, iTunes, and other platforms, it’s not completely off the table either. The band Deep Underground has plenty of room for growth which is exactly what you want at this stage in the game. Good luck on marketing this album and hopefully the creation process has already begun for the next one. We at #IntoThePitWithAnnie are looking forward to it!