Underoath made a significant change to their line-up and sound with break-through album ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’ and though it was a highly impressive take on post-hardcore, it didn’t do too much to move the genre forward. It didn’t take long for them to go from ‘introduction to post-hardcore’ to completely redefining the genre and with follow-up record ‘Define the Great Line’ that’s exactly what they did.
I’ve been hooked on Underoath ever since and when they announced their hiatus, I thought that would be the last of them. On Wednesday though, I had the chance to see ‘Define the Great Line’ played in full (along with ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’ as well) and it reignited all of those warm, fuzzy feelings I had ten years ago when I was first getting to grips with the record. This wasn’t the record me and Mike were planning to cover this week, but after Wednesday’s performance, we really had no choice.
On ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’, drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie somewhat stole the limelight with his outstanding vocals; his contributions in the choruses cemented every song in your head and even now I can find myself idly humming old songs from this record. Spencer Chamberlain’s screamed vocals played a part, but they lacked impact and got washed out a little by the guitars. Chamberlain really came into his own on ‘Define the Great Line’ and it kicked off a sensational trajectory that saw him improve with every subsequent record.
This continuous improvement speaks of a musician dedicated to his art and his passion and determination comes across in waves on this record. The depth and range of his voice is worlds beyond the previous record, adding much more aggression to the heavy parts but also managing to cleanly harmonise with Gillespie as well. Chamberlain is now one of the best vocalists in the genre and you could tell from this record that he was becoming a real force of nature.
It wasn’t just Spencer though, the whole band tightened up, refined and re-evaluated their ideas. The overall sound is darker, with much heavier riffs and breakdowns; the clean vocals are no less infectious but they don’t have that pop-sheen like they did before. Rather than being sugary and sweet, they’re much more contextual against the heavier guitars, delivering the melody but in a more mature, palatable way. By supersizing everything they’d done before, it became clear that Underoath were an exceptional band and the thing that stood out most for me was that they could’ve gone further. They could’ve been more technical, heavier; there could’ve been more riffs like the one Mike is enjoying himself with in the cover for ‘In Regards to Myself’. The fact that they know when to stop, is what makes this band the special band that they are.
When you’re an excellent musician it’s difficult to learn constraint. And it’s not just music: think about anything that you’re really good at. It has no doubt taken you time and practice to excel at that thing and it’s special to you, so your instinct is to show people what you’re able to do. When that’s an individual skill, you’re safe to flaunt it: if you’re a good cook then rustle up an incredible meal for someone; good at parkour? Great, run up a wall and show me what you can do. When you have a group of talented people contributing to one end, that’s when it becomes difficult to temper your individual skill in the interest of the overall output.
There’s no doubting that the members of Underoath are superb musicians but the beauty of Define the Great Line is that none of them overshadow each other and everything is in harmony. It’s precise, it’s calculated; it’s just technically impressive enough to make you notice, but it’s not flashy for the sake of it. It’s a perfectly balanced convergence of parts and it makes ‘Define the Great Line’ one of the best post-hardcore albums of all time.
Simply put, Underoath just get it and they do what they do so much better than anybody else. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why, since they have a formula that pretty much every band in this genre has used at some point, but when it flows from these guys, it’s outstanding. Watching this album play out live on Wednesday was an emotional moment and another reminder of the significant contribution of this band. There aren’t many bands that have had an impact on me quite like Underoath: they’re extremely special and whether this rebirth results in new music or not, it was a privilege to witness yet another stunning performance.
Enjoy Mike’s cover, enjoy this band and go and relive their whole discography as there’s not a bad song among the whole lot (I’ll let you skip the first two albums if you don’t have those, they were a bit different!)