Review Summary: Define the Great Line, defines a great band.
When observing a band like Underoath, one must be careful in making assumptions. For example the first time I heard Define the Great Line I assumed prior to listening it would be just as bad as their previous offering. Was I wrong? Definitely and this is incredibly relevant to the band in general. Underoath really doesn’t have a single album that sounds the same and part of the enjoyment found in this album comes from that fact alone.
So checking back to where we last left off; after releasing their previous album “They’re Only Chasing Safety” Underoath had exploded in popularity attracting scenesters, young Christians and those ever so rebellious youths who like to spray paint walls. Many in the music world wrote the band off as sell outs and untalented hacks and worst of all the band themselves went through their own personal hell of getting along with each other.
Enter Define the Great Line an opportunity to shut up the critics and reconnect with their original fan base whilst keeping the current group pleased as well. Define the Great Line is very much an epic album with lyrics focusing on a journey through one’s own inner turmoil and pain all the while finding a solution to the problem (With a little help from Jesus it seems). But there is certainly more to the album than an epic concept.
Instrumentally the band have regained their composure ditching the simplicity of “Safety” and focusing on a more technical approach reminiscent of a less cathartic Converge with a more melodic edge. The guitar work is quite impressive and demonstrates a level of skill comparable to that of the original line-up. The bass has gained a level of consistency absent from the previous album and even stands out at times.
Most notably the vocal work has improved tenfold with Spencer Chamberlain finding his voice and putting it to great measure, whether it’s through deep growls, higher screams/wails or mildly coarse cleans the sound is just superb. Aaron Gillespie has also grown vocally; his soothing voice is the antidote to Chamberlain’s aggressive, animalistic outbursts. His drumming has returned to the level it was once at providing a heavy rhythmic back bone to the much heavier sound of the album.
Chris Dudley’s programming and keys, while less prominent, are still fantastic. Creating the perfect backdrop for the dark, journey-like atmosphere featured throughout the album. This is especially noticeable on album closer “To Whom it May Concern”, providing a sense of wellbeing after the chaotic experience the rest of the album creates. The band truly does reach a level of excellence with this album, the opening track “In Regards to Myself” presents a heavy, dissonant performance that commands you to listen. The track is Spencer’s best moment, with only minimal assistance from Aaron, he makes complete use of his range travelling from low brutal growls to high screams and everywhere in between even making brief use of his gritty clean voice.
The album truly is outstanding, whether it’s the crippling heavy moments, the dark and gloomy atmosphere or the incredible musicianship, the album is borderline perfect. There are however a few downsides, whilst Chamberlain has definitely improved vocally, he still carries a slight trace of repetitiveness and this can be a bit unsettling. Aside from that the only major issue I have is with the album interlude “Salmarnir” it’s a good representation of their faith and it does carry on the atmosphere but it seems just a tad out of place and would be better suited at the album’s end or beginning. The only other disappointment is that the only difference between the special edition and regular is the inclusion of a making of DVD and the lack of bonus tracks or b-sides is a little annoying.
Other than those slight discrepancies the album is fantastic, it gives the listener a band who is more than willing to experiment with their sound and move beyond the void of simple, pop songs. As for the included DVD there isn’t much to say, the DVD details the albums creative process, giving a look at how everything works in a recording studio and slight glimpses at the relationships between the band mates and producers. The album overall is a great comeback for the band with some major progression being made in their sound that really defines that great line that is Underoath’s musical limit.