Review Summary: I can't be the me that I washed up to be / end cycle.
Underoath's Digital Ghost performance of Voyeurist
was like a hand-crafted invitation to me, personally, to reassure that one of my younger self's favourite bands still had that special sauce. Following up on the furious but familiar Observatory versions of two of their masterworks and also They're Only Chasing Safety
was there for some reason, Digital Ghost plays as Underoath fully embracing the possibilities of the livestream format. Each band member brought their A-game with a set of phenomenal performances that were done justice with a clear, spacious mix. Top-tier production values and set design, almost an updated version of Define the Great Line
's memorably creepy music videos, enriched the music and enhanced the haunted, lonely atmosphere of the music. Ghostly interludes ensured that the livestream performance actually flowed better than the final album product, which I assure you I am getting to. It's simultaneously unfortunate that Voyeurist
will always be compared to Digital Ghost (The Cooler Daniel) because of a bizarre rollout forced by COVID-era vinyl delays, and lucky for all of us that a good album with a clumsy mix has a superior twin to listen to.
But I don't mean to suggest I'll never opt to listen to Voyeurist
. I mean, it's the only version on streaming services – plus, a grittier, tougher sound is not necessarily a dealbreaker for an album clearly aiming to unsettle and disorient its audience in the breaks between pummelling it in the face. The luxuries of unlimited, self-produced studio time allow for some gorgeous sonic textures the likes of which were sorely missing in the flat buzz of Erase Me
: the dreamy, keys-led soundscapes on "I'm Pretty Sure I'm Out Of Luck And Have No Friends" and "(No Oasis)", Chris Dudley's warped, glitchy outro on "Thorn", little snatches of harmony here and there that a patient ear will uncover on repeat listens. In fact, it's interesting that the band's first self-produced work also reintroduced the concept of Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie functioning as a duo and exercising their not-inconsiderable chemistry. One listen to the all-timer hook on "Thorn" will have you flashing back to 2006 at a dizzying speed, with the two singers actually performing together with thought given to the other's melody, instead of Frankensteining together pre-written parts as they obviously did on their first comeback album.
The band claimed "Sink With You" would be the template for Voyeurist
, and in some ways the influence of that song's sike-out ending and spiralling outro are extant in this album, thankfully without the awful accompanying nu-metal hook. Tim McTague's intention to reintroduce the slow builds and atmospheric asides of the good ol' days pays generous dividends in highlights "I'm Pretty Sure..." and "Pneumonia", an indication of a desire to merge the better parts of Erase Me
- the fragmented, haunted feeling of "No Frame", the all-you-can-eat stylistic tightrope of "Bloodlust" - with the things that made old Underoath so fucking great. In other words, it kinda sounds like everything they've done since 2004, remixed and streamlined almost to a fault. A nostalgic kick in the teeth, perfectly calibrated to an age where we're all tired and traumatised and begging for familiar things to come back more than ever before. Can we really blame Underoath for hopping on that train?
So all that good stuff's back, sometimes overbearingly so: the layers of instrumentation, Spencer's lows pinging off Aaron's sky-scraping hooks, Tim absolutely shredding
on that baritone guitar. What's missing? Conspicuous by its absence is the level of lyricism from Underoath's glory days, that heady mix of the intensely personal and the broadly apocalyptic. An undercurrent of cringe-angst creeps in as Voyeurist
goes on, with the one-two punch of "We're All Gonna Die" and "Numb" especially falling victim to a devastating combination of awkward production and too-edgy lyricism. Fortunately the album closes with a triumph, a shattering recounting of the passing of Tim McTague's father with the best lyrics the band has written in a solid decade: "Dig till there's nothing, I'll keep on climbing / until I'm skin and bones / fade into new light, blur back to old lives / release me from all fear." If you've missed that unmistakable edge of darkness drawn from life's adversities like poison from a wound, rest assured, the final few minutes of "Pneumonia" will make up for a lot.
But I don't mean to reduce Underoath's secret ingredient, if there is such a thing, to some abstract definition of 'darkness' that doesn't do them justice. More than most other bands, this one functions on a delicate, subtle chemistry between every single member that can be disrupted both in positive ways (Aaron Gillespie's departure on Disambiguation
clearing the decks for some real, specific darkness) and negative (his return with Erase Me
on some Octane FM radio rock bullshit). Voyeurist
isn't some ambitious attempt to reclaim the name and trust Underoath had accrued by 2012. It's the sound of a band slowly, hesitantly clawing their way towards a clean slate, or some kind of reset where they can just be together making music again without the burden of their past (a similar move to what Thrice pulled with last year's Horizons / East
). And if Underoath never again sound like they did on Define the Great Line
, maybe that's okay. We've heard them play the hits enough for a lifetime, and a scattered few moments on Voyeurist
suggest these digital ghosts might still find newer graves to haunt.