Underoath – ‘Erase Me’

By James Lee

When Floridian screamo/metalcore heroes Underoath called it a day in late 2012, for once it seemed like a breakup that would stick. The band members spoke openly and very frankly about their road fatigue, and even released a documentary film, ‘Tired Violence’, to commemorate their own ‘final’ show. It felt like the band had very willingly and publicly nailed their own coffin shut for good, so it was something of a shock when, barely three years later, Underoath played the first of many ‘reunion’ shows in their home state.

Though many were ecstatic to see the band return, their hiatus hardly seemed worth all of the fuss that they’d kicked up in the first place; plenty of bands have periods of relative inactivity longer than Underoath without the increasingly meaningless rigmarole of breaking up. What wasn’t clear initially though was if this was a full-scale reunion, or simply a limited engagement to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the band’s landmark ‘Define The Great Line’ record, which formed the centrepiece of the live tour that followed their initial batch of reunion shows, alongside a full-album performance of their breakthrough, ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’.

Two years on from that initial resurgence, confirmation came that this would indeed be a total rebirth of the band, with the announcement of a new studio album, ‘Erase Me’, released through the band’s new label, Fearless Records. As with any band releasing a new record after a long period of time (though the band’s ‘last’ show was in January 2013, they’d not released any new music since 2010’s ‘Ø (Disambiguation)’), there was a great deal of anticipation to see what direction the reborn Underoath would take, particularly considering how much the band’s sound had evolved over the main bulk of their career.

‘Erase Me’ whirrs into life with ‘It Has To Start Somewhere’, and all initial signs are good. After having toured the world playing the album in full, it appears that the more melodic sound of ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’ has rubbed off on the band once more, the song resembling a microcosmic collision of that record’s dynamics, angular and punchy one moment and fists-in-the-air anthemic the next. The song is also notable for some unflinchingly nail-on-the-head lyrics that quite clearly see the famously Christian band change their collective Facebook status from ‘In A Relationship with Jesus’ to ‘It’s Complicated’.

It takes until track two, ‘Rapture’, to hear the band branch into new musical territory, though sadly it’s a territory the band should probably have stayed clear of. Choosing to eschew the often chaotic and quite brutal sounds of their last few records, there’s a B-list nu-metal vibe to this song that’s hard to ignore, coming across like something Trapt or Spineshank might write today. ‘On My Teeth’, the first single from the album, offers a slight improvement, though it’s hard to ignore how much like Bring Me The Horizon’s latter day Linkin Park flirtations this sounds, particularly in the processed and flat guitar tones. ‘Wake Me’ continues down the same avenue, the plodding verses led by a plinking piano that sounds ripped straight out of a Twenty One Pilots song, only to lead into a similarly flat and monotone chorus.

‘Bloodlust’ fares better, opening with a ‘Kid A’-era Radiohead vibe that explodes into the first really exciting chorus on the album, the song feeling like it could’ve been lifted from Thrice’s expansive and experimental ‘The Alchemy Index’. ‘Sink Into You’ shifts between nimble electronica-led verses and walls of ferocious guitar noise, and contains some of the only truly heavy passages on the entirety of ‘Erase Me’, the ending particularly echoing the rawness of the band’s most underrated album, ‘Lost In The Sound Of Separation’. ‘Ihateit’ then stumbles backwards into the same troubles that plagued the first few tracks on the record, namely a sub-30 Seconds To Mars mainstream rock vibe that the band don’t wear nearly as well as they think they do. ‘Hold Your Breath’, on the other hand, showcases all of the ways Underoath are capable of utilising melody well, and houses the best and most anthemic chorus on the record (and maybe the best in their discography since ‘Reinventing Your Exit’).

‘Erase Me’ is a frustrating record in many respects. There are some wonderful ideas scattered throughout it, and some of the band’s experimentation does pay off in interesting ways, like on the vocoder-heavy industrial stomp of ‘No Frame’. However, for every moment that rings true and genuinely excites, there are twice as many that seem misguided and just don’t feel like the Underoath. Obviously bands (and people) change and evolve over time, and Underoath as a band have always reshaped their sound periodically, but there’s nothing on this album that feels like it’s pushing the band forward in any meaningful way. The heavy parts aren’t as heavy as they’ve been in the past, the more chorus-led songs aren’t as interesting or catchy as the biggest ‘hits’ from the band’s history.

Underoath were always an exciting proposition because they were able to pull together a number of disparate sounds – coarse, angular metalcore, pulsing synths and electronic programming, both angelic melodic vocals and ungodly screaming – and shape them into something truly unique and entirely theirs. For the majority of ‘Erase Me’, there’s nothing that sounds like it couldn’t have come from any number of modern rock bands, and that’s probably the biggest gut punch of all. Give it a try, and maybe you’ll find something there to love. More likely though, you’ll be following the album title’s advice.

JAMES LEE

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