Perhaps the title of Underoath’s 2002 outing, The Changing of Times, would have been a more appropriate designation for the band’s most recent release. Regardless, Ø Disambiguation works just as well in classifying the Tampa post-hardcore outfit which has seen its fair share of changes in sound and lineup overhauls. The most recent of these shake-ups, last summer’s departure of final founding member Aaron Gillespie, left a hole not just behind the drum kit, but in the hearts of many a long-time fan. Gillespie’s signature clean vocals and presence as pseudo-scene-spokesperson had become a staple amongst the post-punk landscape and served as another hurdle in the path of one of the scene’s most resilient bands.
The fact that Ø Disambiguation shattered the expectations of many post-Gillespie detractors and once again pushed the boundaries of what post-hardcore can sound like is a triumph in its own right. It should come as no surprise that Underoath once again pushed themselves past all sonic expectations; this is a road they’ve tread down before. The only difference is that in the past, it came with much more fanfare and a gold record. Define the Great Line’s shocking burst from the gate in June 2006 found the band near the top of the Billboard charts with a whopping 98,000 records sold in its first week and a slew of sold out shows across the nation despite releasing a much less accessible album than their 2004 pop-screamo smash They’re Only Chasing Safety. So why is it that four years later, the band’s latest (and arguably their best) release debuted so modestly on the charts and the fans that once swarmed their shows now dwindle through the doors? Were that many fans invested solely in Gillespie or is this just another case of flighty attention from the average music listener?
These are questions I found myself asking as I watched a rather disappointing crowd turn out for the band’s Louisville, KY, stop on their current Illuminatour. The line-up is heavy and features progressive post-hardcore act letlive., Long Island, NY, hardcore band Stray From the Path, and Killswitch Engage axeman Adam Dutkiewicz’s metalcore side project Times of Grace. Each band played an impressive and exciting set, although it was letlive. that stole the show early on with an impassioned and wild performance from lead vocalist Jason Butler. But while all three openers put their best foot forward, it was clear that where the crowd lacked in numbers, they made up for in excitement for the night’s headliner. Assorted amongst the gathering were those who were excited to see Underoath for the first time along with those who had witnessed before, but were still eager for another showing.
Underoath have long been considered one of the best live performances in the scene, and their 2011 incarnation is no different. Daniel Davison’s presence at drums has been an extremely impressive one thus far and his live work on the skins is thrilling to watch. Meanwhile, lead vocalist Spencer Chamberlain has developed into one of the best frontmen in heavy music. His guttural growls and high pitched screams now accompanied by crooning clean vocals have made him even more versatile than before and he’s certainly proved more than capable of carrying the weight of the band’s vocal load. As has been the case over the past few years, the band’s performance is supplemented by arty short films projected onto a screen behind the band that coincide with each number as it’s played, adding even more meaning and depth to the band’s songs.
Underoath’s current setlist could very well serve as a greatest hits list, touching on numerous songs covering the band’s last four albums. Although the setlist is heavy with tracks from Ø Disambiguation, there’s also some surprises in the form of old songs like “Young and Aspiring” from They’re Only Chasing Safety and rarely played gems like “Moving for the Sake of Motion” from Define the Great Line. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the small amount of material from 2008’s Lost in the Sound of Separation, but with a performance composed of 14 songs, it’s hard to complain. The band has also added Ø Disambiguation closer “In Completion” as well as the spacey almost-interlude “Driftwood” to their live arsenal, both of which were played to perfection. After taking a short break, the band returned to the stage a final time to play fan favorites “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White” and “Writing on the Walls” as each sweaty fan jumped and sang along.
So with a continually great live performance and another classic album under their belt, why does it seem as if Underoath’s notoriety is dwindling? Certainly a poor record industry climate and falling record sales have to play a role. As does attempting to pull off a summer tour during a time when many fans can only afford to go to one show and are likely to choose Warped Tour over any other. But perhaps the most likely suspect is the casual music fan. Just last year, Underoath went on a headlining tour across the country with Thursday as the opening act performing their 2001 smash Full Collapse in its entirety. For many longtime fans of the scene, this was as backwards of a notion as one could imagine. Wasn’t Thursday once on top of the post-punk world? Didn’t they just recently release what many believe to be their best work to date in No Devolución?
The fact is, most music fans are just passing through and happen to drop in on the latest buzz band. Fortunately, bands like Thursday and Underoath have never been the type to cater to needs of those listeners. Anyone wanting or expecting another They’re Only Chasing Safety out of Underoath was never going to get it. Instead of latching on to a meal ticket ride, they’ve continued to pursue their artistic goal of creating something new and fresh while pressing the bounds of the genre. Underoath my not be selling out every show on their current trek across the country, but that doesn’t mean that they’re any less relevant. They’re still creating some of the best sounds today in rock and are still putting on one of the best performances you can spend your money on. That’s something every hardcore fan can respect.
Stray from the Path
Times of Grace