Florida Sextet Underoath emerged from the Christian metalcore underground in 2004 with landmark emocore album They’re Only Chasing Safety. 2006’s Define the Great Line saw them develop their sound with unorthodox heaviness, while the added harshness of 2008’s Lost in the Sound of Separation and the continued oddity of 2010’s Disambiguation completed one of the decade’s strongest three-album runs. After a 10-year absence, their recent return to the stage caused a buzz that only increased with the announcement of their eighth studio album Erase Me.
The synthetic, airtight style of singles “On My Teeth” and “Rapture” polarized Underoath’s fanbase. The latter especially confirmed the band’s disinterest in reinstating their previous approach, leaving in the dark anyone longing for nostalgic pleasure. Their energy and melodrama now filter through a heavier, more industrial-tinged take on Safety’s more listener-friendly presentation. Though it certainly marks a substantial departure from the controlled chaos of their previous material, Underoath’s Erase Me proves how experienced songwriters can tastefully trim the fat with a rich understanding of their creative process.
“It Has To Start Somewhere” begins the album with a somewhat familiar blast of excitement. Aaron Gillespie’s voracious drums leaps over guitarists Tim McTague and James Smith, who come through with deliciously catchy melodic riffage. Chris Dudley’s keyboard takes its most central role since 2002’s Changing of Times, counterbalancing the band’s gnarled delivery with polished aesthetic and modulative depth. The other instruments become less domineering without losing their power, following Spencer Chamberlain’s intuitive switches between harsh and clean vocals. His plea, “Please God give me a chance. You’ve got me wrong. This is all so damn useless,” sets the tone for an album of unabashed realism.
The album’s singles dial back Underoath’s aggression until “Wake Me” presents the band’s first full-fledged pop rock song. Ascending piano chords and synth pads dominate the song’s progression, with guitars filling in the cracks. Songwriting takes center stage here, as each member contributes to what the song needs to succeed. Whether this sense of arrangement stems from extensive pre-production with producer Matt Squire is up for debate, but Underoath’s hodgepodge of influences elevate even the most accessible moments of Erase Me above a simple backdrop for angsty crooning. “Bloodlust” exemplifies this through its dreamy math-rock and anthemic post-hardcore tied together by an arena-sized riff. The only missing ingredient for these cuts and others is Gillespie’s voice, which takes a back seat too often considering this album marks his return to the band.
The musical directness of Erase Me parallels its departure from esoteric philosophizing lyrics, epitomized by “ihateit” with Chamberlain’s melodious yet vulnerable tale of self-loathing and addiction. The song’s darkness adds weight to its palatability, which reaches a chilling climax with an abysmal cry, “God erase me, I don’t deserve the life you give, God I can’t change at all.” Underoath’s brutal honesty also spotlights their relationship with Christianity. “You can’t make it ok,” Chamberlain screams repeatedly at the end of “Sink With You,” driving home themes of disillusionment with frivolous religiosity. The song’s muscular riff soars over intricate electronics while its harrowing drones and dissonant guitar strains capitalize on Underoath’s depressive qualities, building an intoxicatingly gloomy aura complete with deviant start-stop choices. While Underoath has never been farther from breakdown-heavy metalcore, an exhilarating vibe still prevails through raw execution and undeniable passion.
Brazen vigor manifests in Erase Me’s least hectic passages, but its ferocity explodes on “Hold Your Breath.” While Gillespie’s hardcore punk d-beat lacks the musicality of his usual displaced backbeats, the classic good-cop-bad-cop vocal trade-offs between him and Chamberlain coincide with triumphant choruses, rampaging verses and an ethereal bridge. All the while, expansive electro-acoustic textures support each direction Underoath takes, as the tumbling 6/8 feel of “In Motion” demonstrates. Nuanced dynamics magnify Underoath’s knack for harmonious vocal layering and exact instrumentation, retaining creative fluidity and an immersive sonic spectrum.
The beloved lineup behind Erase Me manages to experiment with their sleeker format. Grant Brandell’s fleshy bass tone syncopates with Gillespie’s evolving groove in “No Frame,” ushering in vocoder manipulations and electronic pulsations. This meditative take on Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial rock is enveloped by lush soundscapes, which in turn provide a springboard for the song’s cathartic triplet-based arrival point. Similarly, concluding track “I Gave Up” uses sweeping ambiance to launch minimalist samples into massive synth-laden power chords, providing a subtly haunting encapsulation of the album’s apparent cry for help.
“The only rule we had on this record was to reject the phrase we said about our previous records,” said Chamberlain. “‘That’s not Underoath enough.’” Ironically, this resolve allowed Erase Me to feel more genuine than a ham-fisted attempt at reliving the 2000’s. For every foray into radio-friendly styles, well-played curveballs provide assurance that Underoath does indeed believe in what they’ve created together. The album’s natural flow unifies its most commanding and approachable moments in service of a well-rounded listen. Erase Me rises to the occasion, embodying what makes Underoath special in its appraisal of trial, tribulation and artistic rebirth.Erase Me is set to release April 6th via Fearless Records.