Review Summary: A surprising and massive accomplishment for a band who was previously trivial and unmemorable.
Rewind your clocks back to 2003. The post-hardcore scene blows up with an extreme number of sound-alike bands all selling the screaming prepubescent angst and singing songs about the regret and remorse that comes with heartbreak. The staggering amounts of carbon-copied clone bands were all just as unimpressive as the next. Even the Christian post-hardcore bands seemed to be toning down their message of God in an effort to conform to what would sell in the scene. Underoath was no exception. Of course, they made their mark, “They’re Only Chasing Safety” (TOCS) was a genre-defining album filled with sugary catchiness contrasted with sharp screams and lyrics about being fake, heartbreak, and under-the-tone religiosity. It was a decent listen and any serious musician could see that the band had talent. Unfortunately, it was wasted on the same high-school-sweetheart, immature material that we’ve heard from all the other bands. So when they announced that they were releasing a new album in 2006, I couldn’t hold my breath for anything really worthwhile.
I should have held my breath.
Now we have “Define the Great Line” an immense, creative, dark, landmark album that Metalcore lovers will mark as one of the best surprises of 2006. What’s important to explain here is that fans of TOCS will likely be disappointed by “Define…” The fun catchiness that was sprinkled all over their music like pixie dust is all but evaporated. What we’re left with is a frantic, focused, significant heavy album that sits near the top as being one of the best ever made. The album’s writing has matured immensely. Gone is the teenage rebel mantra that plagued 97% of the last album. We now have material focused on addiction, uncertainty in faith, and inspiration for what may be beyond the physical.
Make no mistake though, there is plenty of entertaining riff progression and a healthy amount of head banging breakdowns scattered throughout the album. It isn’t as if they sacrificed enjoyability for the sake of being relevant. They just matured the overall sound to become more of a technical masterpiece. And oh how this sound has improved! For starters, the high pitched “scene” screaming vocals are gone and replaced with a brooding guttural growl that seems to take itself more seriously than past efforts. And while Spencer’s distorted vocals have improved, we have him also trading off clean vocals with Aaron and it isn’t unwelcome. The musicianship is so much more balanced and unapologetic which is one of the biggest problems on previous albums. All the elements of the album come together in an expert way to create an incredibly “tight” sound rather than the scattershot awkwardness of TOCS.
The most impressive attribute of this album is how it is able to go from dark and brooding to inspiring and soaring. Songs such as “There Could Be Nothing After This” and “In Regards to Myself” bring the listener to the clouded territories of uncertainty and addiction. Whereas songs like “Casting Such a Thin Shadow” and “To Whom it May Concern” brings the listener to an uplifting territory of reassurance and faith. Despite this albums many perfections, there are one or two things that keep this from being a perfect album. The whole first half of the album feels a tad bit repetitive. I can see how someone could be blown away by the opening but by the third song, getting a little impatient for some sort of variance.
For the most part, the post-hardcore scene is supported heavily by pettiness and melodrama and is, therefore, difficult to take seriously as an important piece of art. When a band creates something of this significance and it still appeals to that scene, you may actually get kids that are obsessed with superficiality to take an introspective look at their lack of depth. This album is an important look at issues that are typically avoided in todays pop-culture. It’s easy to shove reality under the rug in pursuit of an idealistic fairytale, as most music in this scene would have you do. However, it’s much more challenging and important to create something that forces you to focus on otherwise ignored introspective aspects. These themes are something that should be heard by all of society, we’d be better for it.