Review Summary: If it ain’t broke, just make minor adjustments to it.
Throughout the various phases of their career, Underoath have gone from death-influenced extreme metal to pop laced post-hardcore to metalcore, sometimes mixing two or three of them on one album. When vocalist Dallas Taylor was “kicked out” of the band after the release of The Changing of Times
, the album title proved to be prophetic with former This Runs Through vocalist Spencer Chamberlain filling in the gap, as well as the band taking a much more commercial friendly approach with the pop hook-filled They’re Only Chasing Safety
. 2006 saw the release of the much darker and heavier Define the Great Line
, which in addition to a more metalcore sound, featured Chamberlain utilizing a much more throaty yell as opposed to the mid-to-high pitched screaming found on the previous album. This was the album that proved Underoath knew how to write very catchy music with tons of pop appeal while still being heavy as hell, and it transcended the band’s normal audience; many music fans across the spectrum and well outside the core fan base that would gobble up anything the band put out were impressed with the record. With the expected promises from band members of the next album being heavier, more mature, darker, more melodic, etc than its predecessor, one could confidently say hype was built to a point where the most likely reception of the follow-up would be either overwhelmingly positive, or that it’d be utterly disappointing.
The first few listens of Lost in the Sound of Separation
really don’t point to either of those; it appears to be not much different than Define
, with just a few more reasons for keyboardist Chris Dudley to be in the band. The prog-tinged ambient sections from the last album make a return here, but more frequently and with longer durations. The heavy moments are spaced farther apart than they were on the previous album, so the presence of said heaviness could be considered both more effective and less effective than the last time around; they’re more intense than ever, but you have to wait longer to get to them, so the listenable factor may go down for you the first few listens, especially if you found that the heavy moments are what made Define
so memorable. An extra dose of variation has also been injected in the record, with about as many tempo changes as Underoath would ever comfortably have in one song. There’s a fair share of straight up romps of heavy blasts like fast-paced opener “Breathing in a New Mentality” and the first half of “The Only Survivor Was Miraculously Unharmed”, and serene and mildly electronic numbers like the interlude-acting “Emergency Broadcast: The End is Near” and closer “Desolate Earth: The End is Here”. There is a strong sense of cohesion all throughout the album that pulls in all the directions, new and old alike, close enough together to avoid coming off as messy or forced. The catchiness and hooks the band is known for are still retained throughout the album, but more prominently in some tracks; there are some songs that if wasn’t for Chamberlain’s new vocal style, they could be mistaken for something off Chasing Safety
, such as “A Fault Line, A Fault of Mine” and “The Created Void”. Aaron Gillespie also contributes his clean vocals a bit more often this time around, fronting the pop hooks as always, so while they progressed with the album, there’s still plenty to love for long time fans.
Despite being a successful progression, the music itself simply does not hit as hard as it did on their last album. It’s more varied for sure, but this variation also produces mixed results as to how effective it is. Expectations can really affect your reception to an album, and if you came in expecting something as raw and powerful and Define
, you may be initially let down. But here’s the X-factor: once you become familiar with The Sound of Separation
, it becomes easier to see where its strength lies, as an elaboration of directions hinted at on the last album. This is what makes Underoath’s decision to go with this sound a wise one; they retained a lot of the same elements that were the strengths of past albums and added yet another side of the band with this one.
It’s when you step back and look at Separation
in comparison with their other records that it really shines. As a record on its own, it brings nothing new to the table of post-hardcore, with really no characteristics that make it something greater than a good album. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, especially if you’ve listened to Define the Great Line
. What makes Separation
an excellent album for Underoath is the careful amount of progression they used. Additionally, there are no glaring weaknesses during any given moment of this record as it is quite obvious the band are comfortable playing this sound. There were a few times I listened to this album with the sole intention of finding something they did wrong and found nothing each time. The heavy parts are more intense, the pop hooks are more frequent and catchier, the electronic passages are longer, and both vocalists are in their prime. Not one time did I feel the new things implemented on this album were forced or unnecessary. Not one time did the transitions between heavy barrages of the signature post-hardcore/metalcore hybrid sound to the calming passages come off as jagged or rushed. Despite not having deviated too much from their last album, Underoath have finally found their niche by doing everything they want to, and in effect have created their opus.