I first became aware of Ulf Lundblad and Fredrik Djurfeldt’s work two years back through Severe Illusion’s excellent No More Alive Than You Deserve, and since then have become a big booster of their grinding brand of dark electro which has a misanthropy all its own. By the Swedish pair’s own admission, the crossover in style between SI and their other project, Instans, amounts to “more or less the exact same thing under another name”, but I wouldn’t be a record critic unless I picked that nit. On Instans’ second LP and the project’s first release since a 2010 EP, a slightly bouncier iteration of their sound takes hold, albeit with unblinking fatalism still intact.
“Bouncy” is just about the last word I’d typically think of using to describe fare this grim, but the deft basslines which zip past the listener on Understatement over simple drum programming and heavily distorted vocals have no small amount of EBM swing to them. Like a stripped down iteration of endzeit, there’s maybe less of Severe Illusion’s touches of North American electro-industrial here. It’s a move which quickly draws a line between Black Leather-era Klinik and early :wumpscut:, but also creates more space in the mix on tracks like “Tell Me To Go Away”.
To be fair, I’m not sure if Instans actually is less punishing than Severe Illusion, or if its just that I’ve had time to adjust to Lundblad and Djurfeldt’s aesthetic since No More Alive. Regardless, lyrically we’re on the same harsh ground with Instans as with Severe Illusion, with caustic rejoinders opting for harsh honesty rather than the usual serial killer/demonic schmozz. Take “Painfully Normal” as an example: “You are exactly like everyone else / We are all the same / There is nothing special about you / How can you live with a lie?” Somehow lyrics about chemical warfare and genocide would be less depressing,
After one adjusts to the minimalist aesthetic and the gloominess of Instans’ world, it’s the subtle touches which should draw in longtime genre fans. There’s the slight stuttering echo on one of the two entwined leads on “See You Dead” which creates an interesting feel of counterpoint, the ultra lo-fi darkness “27 Hours”, and the sheer tinfoil-chewing wrongness of a high sine wave sampled on “Painfully Normal”.
Much like Severe Illusion’s output, there’s no question that Understatement isn’t for everyone. It’s bleak, uncompromising stuff that blasts and scrapes eardrums, regardless of how nimble individual tracks might be. That said, if you’re either a die-hard dark electro purist or a cynical student of the human condition, there’s no substitute for the unkind forms Lundblad and Djurfeldt carve out.