The majority of extreme metal fans focus on giving the listener a compositional atmosphere condensed with feeling and emotional responses; however hardly any bands hone in on the importance of conveying these messages through the lyrics. Based on true events and of hardship, Underling was created out of something that honestly needed to happen.
Each song Underling writes is carefully crafted to fit the mold of experiencing depression, addiction and suicide — but more importantly, this band is revolved around overcoming those difficult times. With an appreciation for life comes an appreciation for the passion of music: and this is when Underling was born. Because we always bare scars — we can hide behind them or allow them to flourish into something beautiful.
This isn’t a band you listen to while on your phone or even driving in your car. The message this band is conveying is too vital and meaningful to have as background music with other mundane life activities. You need to listen to this band when each song can penetrate you deep to touch your soul, provoking you from within. And with multiple masterminds of bands such as Fallujah and Arkaik working together, you have a band that’s adept in their musical talent but have something to say to the world. And we have only seen the mere beginning of Underling.
In this interview The Age of Metal speaks with vocalist Antonio Palermo and bassist Robert Morey. In the interview we discuss their personal lyrical concepts, why life is so important, and everything this band has in store for us.
The Age of Metal: I’ll start right into the lyrical concepts. You dig deep into the mentality of the depressive disorder rather than merely scratching the surface, specifically with Downpour Why do you feel it’s fitting to express depression in this sense?
Antonio Palermo: Well, depression is one of those things that debilitate you both mentally and physically. It’s a sense of feeling like you don’t exist. Downpour is essentially about a longing to feel loved and missed…but mainly to find solace in the fact that the pain and the depression is finally over. When the hole in your heart is void of hope and life becomes exhausted, sometimes the only way to not feel invisible is an act of desperation. So I use the metaphor of someone throwing themselves off a building. This person is hoping the crowd below will finally notice them for the first time. The line “I am the downpour of everything you love,” is a way of expressing exactly what depression is: the death of the will to live your own life anymore.
TAOM: You mentioned Servant of Filth is about addiction. What do you define as addiction? Do you feel taking this mentality toward something like music or creating music helps to exorcise this in a healthy way?
AP: Servant of Filth is a song about the number of years I’ve spent battling addiction. It took years for me to kick my opiate addiction. I also love my friends for the simple fact that they did not give up on me. I’ll always be thankful for that, especially with Robert [Morey, bassist] being one of those people. Underling was the only flicker of hope I had throughout this period in my life of utter insanity. Servant of Filth is a narrative between myself and my own addiction, as well as the things an addiction tells its servant: “to close your eyes and let your life drift away.”
Addiction is simply powerlessness over a substance. It’s an illness of the mind, body, and spirit. It is a life ruiner and it is the definition of insanity. As far as how my addiction relates to the music I write, I don’t think I would still be here if I wasn’t able to get the high and release that comes from music and the joy it’s given me since I was nine years old. There’s no drug that compares to the transcendence and true euphoria you can feel in genuinely expressing yourself through music. None whatsoever.
TAOM: You mentioned an experience you had where you gotten in a car accident and woke up and prison, and how that influenced a number of songs. What songs are they? And did writing about this situation give you better insight on what and why it happened?
AP: Well [Blackout] was about this one time I was driving from Modesto back to my place in the East Bay. I occasionally do graffiti and saw a barn I wanted to tag. I was on a number of drugs and wasn’t thinking straight and ended up blacking out, then woke up in jail not knowing what happened. I was stuck in an isolation cell for four days, where people scream themselves to sleep every night and the CO’s [correctional officers] harass you for no reason. The lines “Shackled, Cold. Cruel; this tomb. Four walls, Staring. Constant; Their screaming” is directly describing being kept in isolation for the longest four days of my life, and how I had to fall asleep to the sounds of screaming, mentally unstable people. The thing I realized is I was also mentally unstable due to my addiction. I truly felt in my bones what rock bottom feels like, and I like to think I’m a stronger person today for clawing my way out from that pit. I look at the last two years as a learning experience and how I never want to be that person again.
Prior to this, I was assaulted by two Concord Police officers during a traffic stop. My life felt like a downward spiral, and I used drugs to numb the feelings of helplessness and depression. I thought about death and suicide a lot, and relief from the turmoil happening in my life at that point. But what I truly wanted was the death of that darkness which was consuming me at that particular time in my life.
TAOM: Clawing at the Rot discusses an interesting concept that I feel most ignore: a newfound appreciation for life. And in the song you relate it to a post-death scenario. Do you reflect this on someone who is getting over depression, and wishes for that time in their life back?
AP: “Until you’ve heard the whisper of death, Life seems so fucking meaningless.” This lyric basically sums up my personal feelings about what it’s like when you try to run yourself off the edge of the world, and as you look down and are about to jump, something or someone pulls you back to reality and thus back to life. And as you stand before this precipice, you can certainly jump for the reasons that led you there in the first place…or you can turn back and see the world with the freshest eyes. Choosing the latter is so gratifying because there is no greater gift than a second chance to live again. I can speak to this on a very personal level myself from experience.
TAOM: In a couple of different songs this same lyric is repeated: “accepted, adorned.” What do you mean by this? Why is it important?
AP: It essentially means that although we all bear the scars of our past, we become accepted by others who have their own scars to bare. The next line, “Rejected – Reborn,” is in a sense an allusion towards how people are so easy to right you off for the mistakes you make throughout your life; but that it doesn’t matter because you’re more alive inside than they could ever be.
TAOM: Discuss The Seventh Wall. I know you mentioned it was about a friend who passed away. What exact meaning does this song give to you?
AP: The Seventh Wall is my pride and joy. We had Byanca Munoz (ex-Whirr singer) on the track, which added so much dynamic versatility to the song and album. I also wanted to dedicate this song to a good friend who had recently passed away while I was in the studio with producer Adam Ruppel here in Modesto, California. The line, “Lower the wall, open the gates,” is my longing to see him again; to essentially lower the walls separating us from him. So really it’s an homage to a wonderful person with a huge heart that I wanted in some small way pay tributes and respect.
With this song, I had the music before I had the lyrics. So he passed away while we were in the studio, and I made the decision to use one of the most emotive and powerful songs on the record to dedicate to him. So it’s very personal to both me and to those of my close friends, who were also devastated by his passing. Hopefully this song in some small way will immortalize his memory to me because everything Underling writes comes from a place of truth and heartfelt emotion. This song is no different.
TAOM: Your lyrics speak in language, and even if one doesn’t suffer through depression the words that connect us all by language can convey the message. I personally always thought music had its own language. How does the music you play speak about these concepts?
AP: To be honest, the answer is simple: be genuine. I wanted to do this interview so people could see this album is not fiction…it’s my life’s experience that I once went through and felt. I suppose that’s why I invoke so much emotion into my music, because it’s not only an emotional release for me, but my hope is to make music people can tap into emotionally and FEEL the music, rather than just listening to it. This makes for a more gratifying experience for the listener and for me as a song writer.
TAOM: As far as the musicianship is concerned I know you and Rob wrote the songs together. What particular songs stand out to you as far as composition is concerned? And how does the composition reflect the lyrics?
AP: For me, the final song Becoming the Faintest Light, which is an all instrumental track is the most powerful. Essentially I write the discourse of the subject matter the listener hears up until the last song. So to close the album with an instrumental track, I wanted to put the musical interpretation into the hands of the listener. I think the best way to hear this album as a whole is to go somewhere peacefull, read along with the lyrics, and listen to it front to back. I want Bloodworship to take the listener on an emotional journey filled with anger, sorrow, hope…and that’s difficult to experience if you’re listening to it on some shit laptop speakers while your tweeting or on Facebook or whatever.
RM: I would just say our [collaboration] together is a reflection of our relationship over the past nearly decade, it allows us to have the chemistry that can allow us to convey our thought process through this music we stand proudly behind. The dynamics of our songs mirror the ups and downs of Antonio‘s lyrical themes, as expressed in the aggressive songs like Servant of Filth and Blackout as well as more intimate songs like The Seventh Wall.
When Antonio and I wrote [Stay] we wanted to incorporate some D-Beat, melodic hardcore elements, but with Kralice-like intertwining guitar and bass melodies to the record. I think this adds some versatility to sound of the record as a whole. Ironically, Stay was written up-tempo with very melodic guitar lines in order to juxtapose the fact that it’s a song about suicide, apathy, and longing to feel young again.
TAOM: You describe your sound as “atmospheric black metal” on your Soundcloud, and most black metal fans have said there’s more emotion and depth in the genre than any other style of metal. Do you agree? Is this sound the perfect outlet for your message?
RM: Antonio and I both know we have and will continue to put out music with both musical and emotional substance. We all have a hard time discerning what off-shoot of black metal Underling is, and frankly we don’t care. We feel Underling is something organic that stems from our chemistry as songwriters, and refuse to write music to “sound” like anything or anyone. It’s essentially the listeners’ determination as to what style of music Underling is as we evolve, and what the music means to them. Our only approach to achieving a genuine sound and message is writing in genuine form.
TAOM: Any news you would like to discuss?
RM and AP: We will be releasing Bloodworship mid-October 2015 and will have merch for sale as well as show dates booked near the end of the year. We are all looking very much forward to getting this project in people’s faces and doing what we love most.