The new Underoath album is the best record Linkin Park never released.
If you’re looking for a pull quote, there you go. I’ll serve it up to you on a silver platter. I posted this last night on Twitter and the responses I got ran the gamut. Much in the same way that I think responses to Erase Me will cover the spectrum of “Kick ass! Underoath is back and better than ever!” to “What the hell were they thinking? Where’s my xhardcorex?!” I have a hunch that, once the hype and dust settles down, this record will end up being the most divisive of their career. I’ve listened to it about four or five times so far, with another spin happening right now as I write this.
My own history with Underoath goes back to the days of They’re Only Chasing Safety, their breakout album that upended the hardcore/screamo scene at the time (early ‘00s). As a college student getting into that music in the late 90s, I have a vague recollection of their previous record, The Changing of Times, but primarily as just another heavy band in the Tooth & Nail/Solid State family. If I had to hazard a guess, I’m tempted to say that a large portion of current day Underoath fans fall into a similar bucket: some basic knowledge of the band’s pre-Spencer Chamberlain days, but Safety is what got them on our collective radar and put them on the map. For what it’s worth, that album has since been certified Gold. Not bad for a bunch of hardcore kids from the South.
I bring all this up to try to explain how I’ve been trying to make sense of Erase Me. Because honestly, at first blush, this isn’t the album I was hoping for. Expectations, especially for the art and creators that we hold dear, can be a hell of thing. After they called it quits in 2013, I never thought we’d hear from them again. Not in a good riddance sort of way, it simply seemed like the band had grown apart and were moving on to other things. They went out on a high note with Disambiguation, capping off a three-album run that I still think is practically untouchable. Even though my tastes have mostly moved on from that sound, I still revisit Define the Great Line, Lost in the Sound of Separation, and the aforementioned Disambiguation fairly regularly. And while there is certainly some nostalgia mixed in with my appreciation of those records, there remains a vitality and power to them that is undeniable. Something that even the band must have recognized when they reformed in 2015 to start prepping for reunion shows that featured them performing Safety and Line in their entirety.
So where in the world does Erase Me fit in to all of this? It’s an album that brings some of their past heaviness into the present, but I suspect that they will lose a lot of fans due to how polished, electronic, and catchy it is. It shows some influences from Chamberlain’s post-Underoath band, Sleepwave. Aaron Gillespie is back on drums and vocals, but the dual vocals approach is different here. It’s not just Chamberlain on the screaming and distorted lines, with Gillespie singing clean. They trade back and forth, from song to song, and within individual tracks. Chris Dudley’s electronica/synth vibes are all over this thing, in a prominent way that they weren’t before. The guitar tones have changed, blending more with those electronic sounds, to the point that they might be easy to miss to the casual listener.
If you’re looking for familiar territory, “It Has to Start Somewhere,” “Hold Your Breath,” and “In Motion” are probably your best bets. These three are the closest to the “old” Underoath, with the band grooving as heavily as they ever have. But that still leaves the eight remaining tracks of the album and it’s these that will probably confound some. At the beginning of this whole thing, I brought up Linkin Park as a comparison. Depending on how you feel about LP, you might think this is heresy, comparing a band as revered as Underoath to a major mainstream group like LP. But I genuinely still appreciate LP’s first few albums (the self-titled, Reanimation, and Meteora). They lost me after that, but in a weird way, Underoath has crafted songs like “No Frame” and “Wake Me” that feel like they’re tapping into a similar aesthetic. They’re solid tracks, but just not what I expected from them.
And underlying all of that? The songs themselves feel, for better or worse, much more straightforward. These are anthems charged by those days of small club shows, those pits of hardcore kids, but brought into existence by men who’ve changed over the years, with new interests and a desire to push out into new areas musically. And I think that’s really where the rub of this album will hit people. In truth, Underoath has rarely stayed in one place for long. Over the course of their nearly 20-year career, there have been multiple chapters. There was the start of it all, the Dallas Taylor years of their first three albums. Then there’s the Chamberlain-era, with his three records co-signing with Gillespie. After that, the chapter without Gillespie, then the reunion chapter. This newest incarnation is chapter five.
This is not the Underoath of 2004, 2006, 2008, or even 2010. And you know what? It shouldn’t be. We all grow and change and move on. Either you’re onboard with what they’re trying to do or you’re not. Or like me, you’re caught somewhere in between. I suspect that, given my past love for the band, I’ll come to appreciate this album on its own terms in the days and months ahead. Whether or not the same holds true for you? Who can say? Only time will tell.