Undertow can be seen as a culmination of that approach. All five songs have a death march feel—a bombed-out aura where the band sounds like they're dealing with the aftershocks of a cataclysm that took place before the album began. In terms of tempo and volume, there's little that's explosive or cathartic here—the music is a harrowing lurch that sometimes feels devoid of human presence. There's a lot of tension on Undertow, but it never quite finds a release.
During the album's best tracks this lack of release doesn't matter, since the tension makes every moment compelling. Take the two songs in which Nate Young sings his stressed-out lyrics with a sneer. In the title track, he moans hypnotically through a mental post-mortem: "I spent too much time staring outside / That place is never gonna change… will this lull ever quit / Let it come down and be my end." During "Thirteen," he goes through more self-examination: "As my brain ferments, in its torment, thoughts become few"—over bassy echoes, careful chords and a mesmerizing climax featuring Jim Baljo's guitar dissonance and John Olson's horn strains.
In between those two peaks, three short instrumentals fail to muster the same energy. Interesting sounds abound, but they don't always connect, sometimes feeling less like music than collections of sound effects. At their best, though, Wolf Eyes evoke soundtracks to a lost drama whose characters are always in peril, be it from physical violence or internal torment. It's impressive that they can inject that level of seriousness in even their least persuasive moments, but then they've devoted a long career to honing that skill.