Reinventing their entry.
In truth, I never once thought that a new Underoath album would ever happen and yet 'Erase Me' exists. And I'm so fucking happy that it does.
'Erase Me' is a record that's not only a solid and welcome return for the Florida outfit but it's also the next natural step forward for Underoath, actually furthering their sound as opposed to just wallowing in what once made them great back in the Myspace days. (Of course, that won't stop the very same people who loathed At The Drive In's, Glassjaw's and Refused's comeback releases for doing just that when it comes to this new record). See, the band's eighth album is an open and honest representation of where Underoath now stand as six individual people and as a musical collective in 2018; not where they may have once been some ten years ago when you were 16 and jamming every single Tooth & Nail and Solid State Records bands that were coming through. This album really is the sextet's living will and testament as to not only why they broke up originally, but also why they returned and why they're happier and more confident than ever before.
Now, if you heard 2010's sorely underrated 'Disambiguation' and thought it just wasn't the good ol’ Underoath that you were oh so accustomed to then firstly, kindly go fuck yourself: that album was great! 'Paper Lung' was surreal, 'Catch Myself Catching Myself' was goddamn huge, and A Divine Eradication' is an absolute monster. And it pains me to my very core to know that many shunned that record simply because it wasn't their pop-metalcore sound and because drummer/singer Aaron Gillespie wasn't present. Secondly, you're all in for a very rude awakening with 'Erase Me' if you're stuck in the last decade of their discography and expecting as much from Underoath now. Because this comeback record isn't 'Define The Great Line' (which yeah, is still their best release), nor is it the drug escapade comedown of 2008’s immensely heavy and artsy sixth LP, ‘Lost In The Sound Of Separation’. It’s also not the catchy, post-hardcore of 2004’s much-lauded fan-fave, ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’, nor is the extremer, heavier style of their pre-Spencer Chamberlain days either. (God, remember those records?)
Which now begs the question: what is it like? Well, the best way I could describe 'Erase Me' would be to think of Bring Me The Horizon's 'Sempiternal', the alternative rock sound of Chamberlain's other band Sleepwave, and subtle hints of the killer direction Underoath were heading in with 'Sunburnt' and 'Disambiguation' - namely a song like 'Driftwood' - all being rolled into one. Then laced over with far heavier usage of electronic sounds, eerier samples, and darker atmospheric loops a la Nine Inch Nails. (On that last part, keyboardist/sampler Christopher Dudley has given his largest and most substantial contribution to the band yet). Whenever people have asked me what this record sounds like, the above mixing-pot comparisons is all I can really offer. Well, that and one other descriptor: 'Erase Me' just sounds decidedly like Underoath if they were to put out a record in 2018. So please, don't enter the Tampa group’s eighth album expecting it to be exactly like those older releases because while it definitely does feature echoes and remnants of their past sounds, this is a progression and step away from the shadows of their older selves more than anything. And I'm all about that!
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For all of the band's changes - their move into alternative rock territory, the fact that Spencer holds down full dual vocal duties in a surprising move that'll upset many former scene kids - there's still plenty of old Underoath here.
For instance, their lyrics haven't lost any of the angst, honesty or personality, touching on some pretty difficult topics for the group in retrospect. From their religious background and the way they used it (“God erase me/I don’t deserve the life you give/God I can’t change at all"); allusions to Spencer's past drug abuse and chasing metaphorical/literal highs, ("there is no fix"); saying no more to those who betrayed and discarded you ("I'm not your fucking prey"); a band reaching their tether's end after being silently trapped for so long ("I gave up..."); as well as Underoath crushing what Underoath is "supposed" to be and sound like (“Don’t understand it, don’t need your grace/You were never listening, to the words I said"). After all, this record is called 'Erase Me'. This ain't some trip down memory lane for the sake of your own safe nostalgia. No, this is a desecration act of a band now venting their darkest demons through new musical means.
While disgruntled fans will clutch their 2006 pearls as they chuck on throwback bangers like 'A Moment Suspended In Time', I must be honest with you all: there's nothing here that's as fuck-off heavy as 'Everyone Looks So Good From Here' or 'Anyone Can Dig A Hole But It Takes A Real Man To Call It A Home'. However, there's most certainly a lot of depth and melodic method to the band's madness here, and while this is easily the group's least heavy outing, Underoath still find plenty of time to unleash their harsher and heavier sides.
The album's first single, 'On My Teeth', is one such solid instance. It captures the palpable lyrical rage that characterized their older works whilst maintaining the authentic rock sound of their current iteration, all with Aaron's impeccably powerful drumming leading the charge and the rapid flow and busy guitar work of Timothy McTague and James Smith firing off all over the place. Elsewhere, the chugging guitars, swirling instrumentals, modulated leads, choir-like gang vocals and Spencer's rabid screaming in 'Hold Your Breath' work so well in conjunction with the larger, floating melodies that strike in the song's unforgettable chorus; perfectly encapsulating the band's famed soft-heavy, light-dark dynamic so well.
Another great example of this is the urgent pace, rhythmic drive, off-kilter guitars and catchy vocal hooks during 'In Motion', which sees Underoath almost re-interpret their 'Chasing Safety' sound but it thankfully never comes off as disingenuous. It's the exact opposite effect, in fact, especially as they weave into a massive mid-section that sees Aaron's powerhouse drumming and the layered guitars trying to outrun each other as Spencer roars like the mid-2o00's are upon us all again. The very same can be said of the rather experimental 'Sink With You', where we get some of the most potent use of the band's electronic effects yet. Experimentations and newer sonic ideas aside, it also features one Spencer's heaviest vocal deliveries of the entire goddamn record, as he growls "You can't make it okay" towards the end of the track like a man utterly possessed, all amongst one of the murkiest and heaviest sections of 'Erase Me'. There's more than enough proof that Underoath haven't fully defanged themselves with this comeback record; they've merely redirected their heavier and aggressive factors into fresher avenues and new expressions of creativity.
On the flip side, 'Erase Me' also contains some of the most commercial work Underoath have ever cut to tape, but that's not a cardinal sin by any means. What with massive songs like recent single/purist-upsetting 'Rapture' and the downright infectious 'ihateit' aiming high and then fully nailing their sky-scraping choruses by being packed full of stacked guitars and synths as well as Spencer's always-commanding vocal delivery. (While Aaron's clean singing always adds well to these new songs, Spencer's clean vocals have really stepped up and then some).
Similarly, the fluttery guitars, soft high-register vocals and watery sounds in the unnerving intro of 'Bloodlust' follows a similar path but it soon regains the band's noisier qualities with heavier washes of synths and a full-on, super-charged rock chorus. And while I'm not super crazy about a lowkey song like 'Wake Me', it's inarguably the poppiest approach Underoath have ever undertaken, but it's not the MTV/Top 40 pop that you're probably thinking of. Instead, it still retains the brooding darkness, ambience and honesty that you'd expect from these guys, regardless of whatever genre they're stepping into. Honestly, if you can't see that once you hear 'Wake Me', then you aren't paying attention enough because you most likely died on a much smaller hill about this album lacking breakdowns.
Sitting somewhere between the band's two musical extremes here is the awesome, Deftones-like 'No Frame'. This is a cold and moody post-rock/ambient piece full of sublime atmospherics, distant and subtle guitars, slick electronics and is a song that's neither an all-out assault like 'On My Teeth' or 'Hold Your Breath', nor is it a catchy "single" track like 'Rapture' or 'ihateit'. This is where the album's strong production polish really comes into dominant play, and the way the tracks rises from Grand Brandell's driving bass lines, dry, upfront drum beats and effected vocals up to booming low end, harsh distortion, crashing drums and Spencer's and Aaron's inter-looping vocals is the closest Underoath will ever come to being an industrial noise-rock band. And I have absolutely no quarrel with that wicked fact whatsoever.
When it comes to Underoath albums, the most emotionally distressed and mentally upheaved songs are often saved for last. On 'Define The Great Line', it was the post-rock epic, ISIS-worship of 'To Whom It May Concern' that pulled your heart out of your chest with little to no ease. On 'Lost In The Sound Of Separation', it was the jaw-dropping one-two revelation of 'Too Bright To See, Too Loud To Hear' and the more obscure 'Desolate Earth :: The End Is Here'. On 'Disambiguation', it was the ethereal yet earth-shaking final movement of 'In Completion' that rounded everything out nicely. Here on 'Erase Me', the end of Underoath's most divisive album yet arrives with one of the most non-Underoath songs the band has ever written: 'I Gave Up'.
And man, this is a whole new level of melancholia than what Underoath normally choose to close their records out on. But then again, this isn't the old Underoath. As such, the song starts life out as a haunting piano-vocal piece with Spencer singing smoothly over quiet chords about how he and the band quite literally threw in the towel and did exactly what this song's name suggests: they gave up. It's a brutal admission of defeat, as ominous vocals and strings creep in over the verses with the choruses exploding with slithering synths, cascading guitars and mammoth drum hits. 'I Give Up' is a fitting closing sentence on this bold new chapter in Underoath's storied book; one that's just as different as to how 'Erase Me' originally started out some ten songs earlier with 'It Has To Start Somewhere'.
Is 'Erase Me' my personal favourite Underoath record? No. Is it the best Underoath album of the lot? Yet again, no. But is it a great record that lays real claim to their legacy and their sheer impact as a group? Most definitely! What I love about this new Underoath record is that it doesn't wallow in the accomplished works of their esteemed past. For this definitely isn't the Florida legends resting on their laurels in the slightest. 'Erase Me' is not only an authentic and solid return for the American band, it's also a true step forward for them musically as well. Which makes perfect sense, as with their reunion victory lap phase now well and truly over, if they'd just rehashed 'They're Only Chasing Safety' or 'Define The Great Line', myself and countless others would see right through that shit immediately and tear it to shreds accordingly. That being said, 'Erase Me' is really going to divide the fanbase and it will make a lot of die-hard supporters shit the proverbial bed due to it being pretty different than what's come before. However, if you can look beyond the nostalgic reverie of Underoath, can clearly follow the lyrical tone and sonic trajectory of their later releases, and see and understand how these six men have grown and changed over the years, then you'll fully understand the intent of 'Erase Me', what it's aiming to achieve with these 11 tracks, and why it sounds the striking way it does. Again, this is not the Underoath that you once knew. And you know what? That's a good thing!
'Erase Me' is out Friday, April 6th via Fearless Records/Caroline Australia.
Also, to the people that laughed, cringed or got weirded out about Underoath dropping their first ever F-bomb in 'On My Teeth': you are of the weakest bloodline and you will not survive the coming winter.