Underoath (I refuse to use their bastardized-in-regards-to-capitalization version) is a “popcore” band of ill repute. Ever since their breakout success accomplished with They’re Only Chasing Safety
, Underoath have been associated with that dreaded thing most of us hipsters refer to as “the scene.” I personally once saw 9 kids wearing an Underoath t-shirt in one day. Yes, they had all been bought at a previous show, but this phenomenon occurred 3 months after said show, and with people I am rather sure of aren’t smart enough to coordinate such psuedo-kickassery. I had only heard whisperings of how “gr8” Underoath was up to that point, and the incredulousness of 9 people wearing the same band t-shirt on the same day forced me to listen to all of Underoath’s previous album, They’re Only Chasing Safety
. What I got at that point was atrocious singing and screaming, mediocre at best musicianship, and rather poor lyricism.
When I heard about Define the Great Line
being leaked, I didn’t have high hopes. At all. So, instead of downloading this supposed final version, I went about my business like a good boy and downloaded the leaked versions of Louder Now
and later Decemberunderground
, one of which I was supremely impressed with and the other with which I was supremely disappointed with. However, I am a pirate at heart, and I couldn’t hold out for long with the prospect of a “new, heavier Underoath!” just waiting for me. So, I downloaded Define the Great Line
. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m rather glad I did.
When a band changes, I normally enjoy that changed sound much more for some reason. Whether it be Thrice
on Sing the Sorrow
, I normally greatly enjoy a good change in the right direction. That is what Underoath attempt to do here, and almost hit it perfectly. They have blended keeping themselves true to their roots(it still sounds
like Underoath of old, for better or for worse), while at the same time expanding what they do to a point where the “post-hardcore” label now fits them far more comfortably than it ever had. That’s not to say they still don’t have a nagging air of catchiness that is out of place with what’s going on; the best example would be lead single Writing on the Walls
, which combines excellent drumming (that honestly wouldn’t feel out of place on a Behemoth
tune) with the same old stereotypical screaming that Underoath have always relied on to have the little boys screaming along too. Luckily the clean vocals have vastly improved on this album.
Yes, the vocals have improved. Somewhat. My biggest gripe by far with the previous Underoath album is the fact Spencer Chaimberlain (screaming/assorted shI
te) was an atrocious screamer. While he’s no Billy Werner or Drew Speziale (hell, he’s barely a Sonny Moore), he has improved somewhat, so that instead of sounding like he’s throwing up a car, it just sounds like he’s…well, throwing up. He also has more of a true range this time around, outputting growls (bad), wails (meh), clean vox (could be worse) all the way to screeches (oh dear lord). Much in the vein of Atreyu
(a band Underoath has grown more and more similar too), the drummer is a far more enjoyable vocalist to listen to, even though he could possibly be a tad bit generic. Aaron Gillespie has slowly turned into one of the best backup vocalists in the -core scene, counteracting Spencer’s vomit with a nice dose of Pine-Sol that leaves me with a rather bad taste in my mouth overall when it comes to the vocals on the album, but, I mean, at least I know my mouth will be clean for the next (and hopefully better) time.
Underoath has surely improved musically, however. They’ve never been particularly bad at their instruments, but when you think of Underoath musicianship prior to this album, the first two words that come to mind are “Gloriously mediocre” (which is funny, because that really makes no sense). This time around, each member mostly proves their worth, and in fine form. Guitarists Tim McTague and James Smith are both solid players; laying down heavy riffs where they need be and creating some excellent lead lines (To Whom it May Concern
is a highlight, even with its mostly minimalist attitude). Drummer (and previously mentioned vocalist) Aaron Gillepsie has become arguably the strongest member of the band, with pounding rhythms and some fantastic drum fills, and even utilizing that ever so impressive “blast beat” drumming death metal bands do ever so love to employ. However, bassist Grant Brendell and keyboardist Chris Dudley unfortunately get somewhat lost in the mix, with Brendell only truly noticeable if you’re listening closely for him (although he lays down some impressive bass lines, although leaning towards being quick and aggressive rather than technical). Dudley really only gets his due one the extended tracks and interlude, but he shows he can create a dark (if rather shabby) atmosphere. Overall, Underoath have surely improved on what they previously only were adequate at.
Going past mere musicianship, though, Underoath’s greatest improvement has been in the crafting of their songs. Previously, songs were predictable and rather bland, which gave them a sort of one trick pony stance. This time around, they have expanded their repertoire by quite a bit, and it’s surprisingly most evident in the long tracks. When I first heard there would be two tracks going past 6 minutes on this album, needless to say I was more than skeptical. I thought they were trying to go along a road that just wasn’t there, for hadn’t Thrice
just shown us that you can keep songs under 5 minutes and have them be epic? I was needlessly worried, for Casting Such a Thin Shadow
and To Whom it May Concern
are the best songs on the album. Casting Such a Thin Shadow
emphasizes the musical aspect of Underoath quite well, with everyone pitching in with some of their best efforts (Brendell in particular is the standout [note-it is his only
standout performance]) to make the song slow and building, and the vocals being given a more chantey and far-off effect help this tremendously as the song finally reaches its climax with some above average screaming from Spencer, and then another few minutes of sweet musical bliss (relatively that is). To Whome it May Concern
, however, instead builds up for the entirety of the song, giving it a strangely fitting epic vibe, that juxtaposes with Casting
The one part that I till feel wholly disappointed with in regards to this album is, unfortunately, the lyrics. Underoath are always potholed as being a “screamo christian rockzor band dood”, and I feel that title is undeserved. They aren’t strong enough songwriters to be called that. The lyrics aren’t terrible, there are no ”You’re Beautiful, its true”
moments to be had here. What the biggest problem is they don’t separate themselves in any way from the generic rock band in either the writing or the meaning of the lyrics. Most songs are about typical teen angst, albeit with a generally hopeful message, but in the end they still feel like something not out of place on a Linkin Park
album. The writing doesn’t help matters, as they handicap themselves by trying to keep everything as sing-alongy (or scream-alongy) as possible, while sacrificing any sort of narrative. Bruce Springsteen
they are not, but at least they’re slightly better than some of their contemporaries (Aiden
In the end, Define the Great Line
is a surprising album. It isn’t so much enjoyable as it is merely impressive; these 6 boys from Florida have grown from being a slightly edgy pop-core group to walking a rather fine line between post-hardcore and metalcore-lite. They’ve vastly improved in nearly every respect; when they’re catchy they are catchier than ever before, and when they’re heavy, they are truly heavier than ever before. I can only hope that they continue upon this trend, and hopefully shore up their singing and lyrical woes for their next release. If this is any indication, that is something worth waiting for.
In the meantime, I’ll just sit here knowingly, smiling inside as teen girls discover Glassjaw
because of this album, and knowing that finally, my dream of talking to a girl in a Senses Fail
t-shirt about The Fall of Troy
may finally come true. If only…
Casting Such a Thin Shadow
Writing on the Walls
To Whom it May Concern