It’s always a source of apprehension when an older band returns after a lengthy break, particularly when said band were so formative in an entire scene. Indeed, you’d struggle to find a metalcore or post-hardcore band around today that wasn’t influenced in some way by Underøath, who pretty much defined what mid-2000s screamo and post-hardcore was. And yet, that adoration doesn’t seem to have translated in the same way today; They’re Only Chasing Safety is still essential listening within this genre, but their later material isn’t nearly as well-remembered, especially their last album Ø (Disambiguation) which has remained lost in the avalanche of metalcore that came around in 2010. Now, after frontman Spencer Chamberlain’s electronic-rock side project Sleepwave and drummer Aaron Gillespie serving a stint as a touring member with Paramore, Erase Me sees a band reconnecting to redefine themselves and break through in a scene that they’ve helped shape, something they’ve largely been unable to do for around a decade.
And at first, it feels as though Underøath have seriously dropped the ball. Gone is the stylised post-hardcore of their heyday, and in its place stands a much more simplistic, gimmick-free rock sound, augmented by electronics and buzzing effects that wouldn’t feel out of place in Chamberlain’s Sleepwave. It’s definitely a departure, and one that doesn’t yield the greatest responses initially, almost as though they’ve stripped themselves back to their most basic ideals in a fashion that feels drastically underwhelming. With the benefit of time though, the appeal of Erase Me becomes more and more apparent, showcasing an angrier, more visceral Underøath that no longer needs to rely on genre pigeonholing to make an impact. What’s more, Erase Me feels like a genuine rebirth; the career-first F-bomb on On My Teeth has already signified the end of their Christian band status, but so much of this album illustrates that disillusionment of faith and the ire that comes with it. Wake Me and Hold My Breath find Chamberlain rallying against the indoctrination of religion and the grip it held on him, and Ihateit seemingly represents his turning point, where faith still has its hold even as the resentment towards it grows. Erase Me can be taken rather literally in these terms, seeing a band smashing down one of their most core ideals and rebuilding themselves with an intensity that feels truly real.
Perhaps the most noticeable part of this reinvention comes in Underøath’s overall sound, which has morphed into a more ragged, electric brand of straight-up rock sandwiched in between abrasive shards of noise to complement their anger. Compared to the lyrics, however, the consistency is definitely lacking a bit more here, in that aiming for any real sonic nuance feels more stilted than it should. Bloodlust is perhaps the best example in its binary shift between weedy, fluttering guitar fragments and the full-force hit of the chorus that lead into each other with an audible clunk, but the flat, drawn-out buildup of No Frame and the underwhelming predictability of closer I Give Up feel drained of interesting or compelling ideas. It’s easy to see why some longtime Underøath fans might be a bit reticent to truly embrace Erase Me, given that it is such a departure, not to mention how basic it ultimately is. Then again, there’s plenty here that’s still worthy of merit; for one, there’s actual grit here, avoiding being steamrolled over by unnecessarily clean production, and with Chamberlain adopting a vocal style that’s a lot looser and less regimented in terms of sing-to-scream transitions, any dilution of sound doesn’t seem to be an issue here. Throw Gillespie’s drumming into the mix, with a bone-rattling technique and precision that on a track like On My Teeth verges on drum ‘n’ bass, and Underøath’s attempt at a modern rock album manages to sidestep the doldrums that many would associate with the term almost completely.
That said, Erase Me falls in the awkward midpoint between an album that’s definitely good, and one that doesn’t exactly live up to its potential and feels a bit slight overall. It’s easily the most compelling and unhinged album that Underøath have released in a long time, but it’s still a bit safe overall, refusing to push any sort of boundaries or experiment more drastically in a way that would benefit such a grand return, and to be honest, that does put a cap on how much this can actually be appreciated. Still, what we do get on Erase Me feels like a revitalisation in its purest, most potent form, and the fact that Underøath have actually made the effort to embrace it rather than succumbing to late-period fatigue automatically starts this album off on a higher footing. It mightn’t be perfect, and it’ll most certainly rub some the wrong way, but Erase Me feels like a brave new step above all, and if this heralds the return of a galvanised Underøath, it’ll all be worth it in the end.
For fans of: Bring Me The Horizon, Sleepwave, Beartooth
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Erase Me’ by Underøath is released on 6th April on Fearless Records.