Published Apr 04, 2018Underoath's genre acrobatics have shocked and awed fans — and no doubt made some out of nonbelievers — more than their fair share throughout their career. Their latest, Erase Me, is their most agile audio about-face since the Dallas Taylor days — to put things in perspective, current vocalist Spencer Chamberlain joined the band in 2003.
That they pulled off a switch from metalcore to a much poppier, alternative rock sound is impressive enough, but even more so is the fact that they did so without cramping up after not stretching their creative muscles for over half a decade (it's been eight since 2010's Ø (Disambiguation) and six since Anthology: 1999-2013, which featured two new songs). Well, that's mostly true. In the interim, drummer/singer Aaron Gillespie kept busy filling in for Paramore, with his band the Almost and as a solo artist, while Spencer Chamberlain formed and fronted rock-based project Sleepwave.
Comparisons to the latter abound online, but those comparisons are overly simplistic and reductive. Yes, Erase Me also features more singing and less metalcore than has been standard in Underoath's career, but it straddles Sleepwave's experimentations, landing on the catchier side ("Rapture," "Wake Me"), more energetic side ("It Has to Start Somewhere," "Hold Your Breath") or somehow pushing both extremes ("In Motion," "Sink With You"). The album is also dripping with a subtle darkness that Sleepwave simply didn't have, perhaps due to the tug-of-war between the band's two writing teams — masters of melody Chamberlain and Gillespie v. wielders of weird guitarist Tim McTague and keyboard player Chris Dudley.
Breakdown fans need not have a breakdown, as the metalcore influence is still there, especially on first taste "On My Teeth," but it rarely steers an entire song, let alone the album as a whole. That's not to say this album isn't heavy. The emotions are even more prominent given the relative vocal vulnerability, and the punctuating screams accentuate that, with Chamberlain's cry of "god, erase me" in pseudo title track "ihateit" sounding positively negative and desperate. On the music side, "Sink With You" seemingly ends and fades out, lulling the listener into a false sense of security before coming back with a discordant, siren-esque panic, while "No Frame" uses frazzled electronic textures in place of the standard palm-muted guitars in its breakdown-y bridge.
Much like recent tourmates Bring Me the Horizon did on latest album That's the Spirit, Underoath have transcended their metalcore past. While the British band eased their way into it over many albums, the Underoath jump was more sudden, perhaps causing initial uncertainty or unease over the direction. However, given time to sink in, those doubts are erased as one realizes the band didn't rub out their past entirely, but found a way to colour it to guide their future.
Oh yeah, and the one-time Christian band swears on the album. Who fucking cares? This is all that should be, anyway: a footnote. (Fearless)