For quite a while, we were told that rock and roll was the devil’s music. Ever since Elvis shuffled his hips in such a grotesquely demonic way, rock music was a good kid’s best bet for going bad. But times have changed and rock music not only is a sanctuary for Christians, but some of the little buggers are making music that shreds eardrums better than many of those old Satanic bands could ever hope to do.
Enter Underoath, the metalcore Christian band with gobs of mainstream success, slots on “secular” festivals, and hordes of ear-splitting banshee fans in tow. These guys are inked up and look like a goshdarn rock band. Better still, they freaking sound like one.
Fans of Underoath won’t need an introduction, although things have been rough as of late. Not only does the band’s current line-up feature just one of the original members (drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie), but lead screamer Spencer Chamberlain went through substance abuse troubles that threatened to break-up the band. Substance abuse… in a Christian metalcore band… I never!
While some Christian musical acts can be easily criticized for a holier than thou approach, the muck and mire of Underoath rings true. Chamberlain’s personal strife and struggle displays a human side, his voice betraying a solid trust between body and mind as he bleats and blasts through the band’s hard-edged arrangements. As the replacement for the departed Dallas Taylor, Chamberlain’s a good fit.
Since Chamberlain joined Underoath, the band has released three records. 2008’s Lost in the Sound of Separation is the third, marking the sixth studio album overall.
The sextet roars out of the starting gate with the aptly-titled “Breathing in a New Mentality” to get things going. “Clean me up, show me how to live, tear me down, let me start again,” Spencer screams over crunching guitars.
And that sense of replenishment through devastation really marks the theme for Lost in the Sound of Separation. Spencer’s yelling and coarse shouting comes off as a grand form of catharsis and we’re along for the psychotherapy, experiencing rare moments of stability in the weariness of self-torture.
That sense of balance comes in the form of Gillespie, who offers moments of remarkably gentle singing to offset to Chamberlain’s angst-ridden boulevard. There is odd frailty, such as when Gillespie balances Chamberlain on the potent “A Fault Line, A Fault of Mine.” Witness: “Bear with me, this is all I have left” as Gillespie’s offering to God, perhaps on Chamberlain’s behalf.
“Emergency Broadcast: The End is Near” is the album’s best track, a driving rock track with nice pace and solid construction. “At the end of it all, we will be sold for parts,” Chamberlain posits. The tune features a tremendous breakdown as well, as the band plays lightly (for them, anyway) over Gillespie’s drums.
Lost in the Sound of Separation works because it goes beyond what a metalcore record should do and turns into a full-on confessional of sins. It is Underoath’s most deeply personal record, built in the fires of ache and self-torture with the ultimate goal of refinement never far from view. It is genuinely spiritual, yet avidly relatable to those among us who may not share the band’s views. There is more substance here than I expected and the band is willing to take risks, proving their worth in an ocean of Christian metalcore sound-a-likes.
Plus, when a metalcore band has the balls to wind things up with a track (“Desolate Earth: The End is Near”) that sounds like it belongs on Kid A, you gotta freaking give it up to them. Amen?