After an eight year long break, the sextet of Spencer Chamberlain, Aaron Gillespie, Tim McTague, Chris Dudley, Grant Brandell, and James Smith hit us hard with “On My Teeth”. This first single from Underoath‘s upcoming album Erase Me was a breathtaking and confrontational as well as an invitation into the band’s current sound. The amped up taster of “On My Teeth” comes from an album which intends to address the dire circumstances that led to the demise of the band, the individual band members’ disenchantment with religion, as well as Underoath’s determination to be true to themselves, and with their listeners. The band’s sixth album, Erase Me is backed by Fearless Records (and Caroline Australia), and is the product of time in the studio with Matt Squire and Ken Andrews in 2017.
Known as a Christian band, this first single (which is the first from the band to include the word ‘fuck’) seemed to herald a breakthrough into a new era for the band. When speaking with Revolver, Spencer Chamberlain referred to religion and the confines of expectations of the Underoath identity as being the two things that “fucking ruined our band in the first place”. With this intriguing hint at reinvention, I dove in, track-by-track, to explore this creative expression of breaking free. With my review, I also had the ‘luxury’ of not having intimate knowledge of the band’s discography, giving me freedom to take what they’ve created in Erase Me at face value.
After an eerie and colliding start courtesy of percussion and effects, the album’s first track “It Has To Start Somewhere” reveals its driven self. The track vibes as an exploration, where feathery clean vocals invite connection and for someone to take the time to get to know them in honesty. This is a story being told, with a sense of ‘about time!’, with breathless desperation as they fight for benefit of the doubt to be given. Heavy and persisting, with clean moments along the way, it’s clear they’re trying to be heard and finding no way in. The track refers to God which may be literal or just as an expression of frustration. I personally took it as a general statement, that a vulnerable and ‘useless’ position as having lost their identity is where they’re beginning from. Layers of roars and looped riffs layer up for an impressive collection of energy, where previously wasted forces are ready to inspire change.
Static pulses and hugeness of sound draw us in from “Rapture”‘s beginnings. Guitar grandeur and slithery cleans feature here, with hugeness of sound selling the message. Tangled up in manipulation, the ‘narrator’ sees themselves entrapped and suppressed; unable to break loose. When the bridge arrives, there’s a sense of satisfaction, where a moment of reprieve in the song reflects a break from the toxic connection that they’re seeking. It’s clear he’s on a leash to someone/something (religion?) and he can see this oppressive link and continues it, even though recognising its toxic nature. To my ears/body, the track felt heavier as it progressed, seeming like sinking into the weighty defeat that he finds himself existing within. This is a big sigh of defeat expressed within this rocking track.
“I’m forever lost, there’s no coming down”
I honestly can’t get enough of “On My Teeth”, and see it as one of those impeccable pieces of music that has everything I want in a song: A building introduction, being drawn in from the first verse, teasingly led into the chorus, with a progressive build-up into chorus massiveness (all the while expressing something real).
Fiery in its subject matter, “On My Teeth” is an arrow of flames that find its way to another, hopeful to leave them in burning agony to reflect the pain that they had inflicted. The drumming is a standout which seems to hold this whole thing together and keeps it going, even though all pieces deliciously and powerfully combine. Fittingly electric and contagiously amped up, “On My Teeth” is bitterness spat forth and backed by relentlessly impressive musicianship.
“You got the best of me
And stabbed me in the back”
Curiously clean and light(er) after “On My Teeth”, “Wake Me” left me looking for the beefy beats. Withdrawn and subdued, the shift in sound soon made sense when the subject matter was understood. The track speaks about sinking into something quiet and familiar, for safety and comfort, but maybe being insular to the point of depression. In cosy familiarity, there’s a lingering questioning and a nudge, wanting something more. They’re seeking inspiration and something to break them free into a fuller life.
Though seeking, with thoughtful guitar and a distorted voice of separation, there’s also a hesitation to head into territory that feels unsafe. I would have loved a ‘bigger’ bridge, but the stuckness where they are and not being easily able to move into a resolution is also reflective of the song. They’re left asking for help and are subdued in the meantime; existing in a reality that doesn’t make sense.
“It’s easier to sleep than to face it awake”
Even lighter and more delicate, “Bloodlust” feels like electricity and inner voracity that’s contained and withheld. The introspective track, with gentle acknowledgement of what’s happened, bursts out into the chorus, where electric riffs add to the ‘look where we’ve ended up’ vibe. Each verse is soft recollections of what’s happened, where it’s only at the bridge that we get an open door look into the intricacies of what’s going on within. With repeated electronic samples, it feels like a measured admission of the darkness they’re experiencing. Acknowledging ‘This is me. Dark and light’.
It’s a really smooth transition, in my opinion, from track to track, where the feel of one leads into where the next begins. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were created in this order, with the sense of telling a story of their evolution as it happened.
“I have a darkness that you’ll never see”
“Sink With You” takes the experimental/electronic sounds and effects and amps it up further. A zapping build up drops into a solid and fast-paced flow of a song. The zorby pre-chorus is a stand-out, as is the layers and cross-flowing pieces of sound and voice that move together, combining to drop into a solid chorus. To me “Sink With You” is an immersive and ‘lose yourself’ track, despite its hardness at times. Confessions and admissions run outward, with strength being gained in the process. The vibe of the track is gripping on to something hopeful, with refusal to be sunk down into a place they feel uncomfortable. Determination to rise and grow shows itself here, sparking goosebumps when suppressed vocal and static roll into one, before an explosive ending. I’d consider it the most experimental track of the album.
Flowing and honest, “ihateit” is intriguing from its beginning. Gentle admissions and explorative sound lead into gritty and huge choruses, which are addictive and catchy from the first listen onward. Our narrator is reflective of where he’s been, and the vulnerable expression of growth and expansion into truth again sparked goosebumps, as did the raw (and roaring) expansion at the bridge. Similar to “Rapture”, the track shares the description of being drawn to something that feels toxic.
“I don’t deserve the life you give”
Static and drum build-up is where “Hold Your Breath” begins, becoming blistering fire when it kicks off. The track gives a sense of alarm and feeling trapped; unable to get out of the situation they’re in. With this containment at the verses, the expansive (“Alone at the top of the world, Cut the cord let me float far away”) chorus is so very satisfying. It’s inspirational in the sense of lightness, even if alone, in comparison to the entangled life they were living. A gorgeous melodic instrumental section adds to the lightness in extricating onself from another, as do the gang vocals. There’s a satisfying sense of freedom with every verse, and with this I am cheering on Underoath if this has been what they’ve lived, whether feeling contained by their faith, their label, or their musical obligations.
Honestly with songs like this, I could care less if a band doesn’t fit into their old sound/brand anymore, because of the importance of what’s being shared within the music. And in a world of sameness, blind obedience, including people who focus on gaining clicks, likes, follows, to have someone celebrate their truth, even if this means aloneness, as freedom, well it’s really damn refreshing.
The stuttering sound and electronic pulses along with warm guitar is where “No Frame” begins. I’m personally enjoying the static and experimentation that the band are using to express themselves, and this piece of music with eerie vocal effects as well as clear honesty is another chapter on the topic of containment. The excitement in breaking out of who they weren’t and into something more is palpable. Sonically, this zombie/drone/robot life is aptly reflected by way of sound, with monotony and repetition. Droning and pulsing, it’s uneventful and shows the blandness of containment.
Bursting out with rawness, emphatic drums and unbridled experimentation is ridiculously satisfying. It’s beauty with screams and spoken words suppressed, and I am again riddled with goosebumps as ethereal and choral meets anguish that was seeking air. Gritty and glorious, “No Frame” is brilliant and I’m in love with what’s being shared.
“Time has no frame”
Collisions of sound and electrostatic pull us into “In Motion”, where vocals take centre stage in amongst crashing and irregular rhythms. In amongst the noise is the rejection of the critical and apparently ‘helpful’. I’m hooked on the melody of this track and find myself falling into its story; a statement of ‘I’m going ahead with or without your permission’. It’s another sliver of the weight they’ve been under, having to ‘live a lie’. The fury of this experience is felt most fully at the raw bridge. It’s a potent ‘back the fuck off’ statement, as well as being another great song that seeks repeat plays.
“There is no fix”
On the album’s final track, piano and velvety voice is beautiful in its honesty. “I Gave Up” is tough to take, as though having a ‘the lights are on but no one’s home’ kind of existence. They’re calling for someone else to take the reins of their life, because of the lack of value they find in it. Solid chorus pours out in fight and anger, where gorgeous vocal effects add to an out-of-body vibe. It’s seeming like a life or death battle to be themselves, and they’re in a state of surrender. This track is beautifully moving, where we’re given insight into what it was like to persist in a life that wasn’t theirs. The never ending stuck cycle is backed by sound effects.
“Every day is a lie. Every mile is a mountain.”
In conclusion, these eleven tracks are a powerful and moving invitation into the Underoath story. They share with us from multiple angles what it was like to exist within the confines of a life that wasn’t the truth of who they were anymore, as well as the painful process of breaking free of that into something else. To me these songs are courageous expressions of truth wrapped up in sound, and I hope they’re taken as such, even if they may not be pretty to listen to, or fit into expectations.
Potent messages wrapped in experimental sound, moving from rock forces to gentle confessions. A courageous expression of truth, and the journey to get there.