Ø (Disambiguation)

Written by: TL on 09/12/2010 15:58:37

Within the realms of metalcore and post-hardcore, few bands command the kind of awe that usually surrounds the mentioning of the bandname Underoath. Ever since picking up frontman Spencer Chamberlain for the band's 2004 album "They're Only Chasing Safety", the Florida sextet has not looked back, using a hell-raising live-show and a constantly evolving musical expression, to gather the kind of respect that most bands can only envy. That's why I, like many others, looked forward to "Ø (Disambiguation)", the follow-up to the excellent (even though PP's review on this site says differently) "Lost In The Sound Of Separation". Even after the band parted ways with phenomenal drummer and clean vocalist Aaron Gillespie, most of us were still quite sure that the remaining guys could still only come up with something good.

At present moment, "Ø" has been out for exactly a month, during which I've been struggling to penetrate the usual density that characterises an UO release. No matter your personal relationship with the band's songs and albums, I think we can all agree that this is a band that sounds like few others, and who compose their unique soundscape with a masterful touch. Between guitar, bass, drums (now provided by Daniel Davison, of ex-Norma Jean fame) and electronics, Underoath have spent three albums developing a bleak, regretful and desolate sonic landscape, that is utterly immersive and utterly their own. Suffice to say, you will be hard pressed to find anything as thought-out, as ambitious and as uncompromising, within the genres of post-hardcore and metalcore, let alone in music all together.

That's all pretty much a given though, you all knew that would go for the record, afterall, that's why UO have the status they have. What you're interested in, I trust, is what the band has done to make up for the loss of Gillespie, and where they've taken their sound after "Lost In The Sound Of Separation". To the first question, I can say that Gillespies's departure has not forced an omission of clean vocals (nor of excellent drumming, Davison takes care of that). Chamberlain has stepped up to shoulder the entire vocal burden, doing so surprisingly well, with a clean performance showing levels of passion and versatility that closes in on the man's absolutely monstrous assortment of growls and screams.

Chamberlain hence switces back and forth between his exemplary harsh vocals, and cleans that at times sound like Gillespie, but also lean towards styles you know from Deftones' Chino Moreno, and Alice In Chains' William DuVall. At least that's what I think it sounds like, but I honestly can't be sure if my comparison to those two bands does indeed come from the vocals, or if it rather comes from the instrumentals. You see, if there's one noticeable development on "Ø", it is that UO seem to have gotten slightly less frantic. Their vast and depressive atmospheres, which remind me of those two exact bands, are given more time to expand themselves, in between the eruptions of destruction that are still readily available, if not as omnipresent as we're used to.

This is all good and well, but UO aren't entirely free of the earthly shackles all bands wear, meaning that I think they still have to bend that otherwordly sound of theirs into memorable songs or at least moments, for their newest opus to be considered on par with prior ones. And in this department, I for one feel like I've been banging my head against the wall in a futile attempt at striking gold. Why? Well, to be frank, I suspect it has to do with the loss of Gillespie. On previous albums, the red-haired drummer's voice added, in a sense, a different colour of light to the band's expression. His lines were like brief sounds of someone attempting to painstakingly claw their way out of Underoath's dark world, and the sound of Chamberlain's growls taking them over, swallowing them back in, that was a dynamic sound, that made songs on "Define..." and "Lost..." so engaging.

Competent as Chamberlain has shown himself to be in the department of clean vocals, he doesn't seem to contain the strike of brightness which Gillespie brought to the table. His singing might provide a technical contrast, but the range of emotion seems narrowed, as Chamberlain sounds equally resigned to the gloom, whether he's singing or screaming. Indeed, my favourite track off the record is the one on which he makes an exception to this rule, namely "Who Will Guard The Guardians", but other than that, I've had a real hard time making friends with other songs than "Catch Myself Catching Myself" and opener "In Division".

What this means is, that for a while I've been struggling with the thought of actually assigning Underoath a grade around average. This of couse didn't seem to be an issue to PP, when he didn't feel "Lost..." as much as he did "Define...", but for me, there seems to be an almost universal contradiction in the idea. Why? Well would you listen to this stuff? Who sounds like this? Nevermind that, who sounds so well, sounding like this? Could be I'm blinded by a good past relationship with this band's music, but from what I can hear, they simply write, play and produce too well to be aligned with 'ordinary bands'. Even if I can't presently find in myself, the bitterness it probably takes to really allow this recentmost manifestation of the band into my blood stream, I still feel like these sounds are above and beyond what 80% of all bands are capable of formulating in thought, let alone laying down on record.


Download: Who Will Guard The Guardians, Catch Myself Catching Myself, In Division, In Completion
For The Fans Of: the idea of Norma Jean, The Chariot, Deftones and Alice In Chains, taking turns at contributing parts to songs
Listen: myspace.com/underoath

Release Date 09.11.2010
Solid State / Tooth & Nail

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