If you want to set a standard for how a returning band should ideally play it out, Underøath would be right up there near the gold. 2018’s Erase Me felt like a statement of intent on its own, but in the context of a band so formative within post-hardcore in the 2000s, it kept that mojo in place while still having the room to grow and mature. It’s more notable when placed against other acts in the same position; where a continuation of the initial artistic throughline and a conscious effort to sound contemporary are treated as mutually exclusive options, Underøath are getting it right a lot more than most. That being said, Voyeurist does feel like a bit of an odd next step, where Underøath are trying to continue forward and deserve a lot of credit for it, but it can come across more like a collection of ideas than a cogent whole overall. It’s what makes songs like Hallelujah and Thorn most noteworthy; they’re among the most immediately melodic, but also where each element comes together more cleanly. It’s also not to say this isn’t a memorable album either, if only for the sheer force that’s embedded within it, but some pruning and aligning is ultimately needed to get more from it. Right now, the greatest feature that Underøath have is the willingness to drive headlong into their thoroughly modern, thoroughly acerbic post-hardcore, which still makes for an impressively gripping listen on that fact alone. This isn’t a well-oiled machine, as much as one whose circuitry is open, sparking, and ready to incinerate itself at a moment’s notice. Spencer Chamberlain has simply never sounded better, with a scream that could shred metal put to ample work on Damn Excuses and Cycle with how free the opportunities to revel in a combustible fury flow.
That’s the point worth stressing on with Voyeurist too, in what feels like Underøath’s conscious attempt to break away from the tribalism that can afflict a lot of current heavy music. It says a lot that the sole guest appearance comes from Ghostemane, as Underøath stake their claim to move away from the arm’s-length approach to that newer breed of heaviness that their generation of hardcore could and will easily facilitate. On the one hand, that definitely colours some of the album’s issues when it comes to its flow and overall construction (particularly in the closer Pneumonia which spends a hefty portion of its seven minutes meandering in atmospherics), but that’s not to discount how obviously galvanising that bolt of inspiration is. The industrial and nu-metal coating is effectively impossible to miss, embraced to hit that right middle ground between freshness and a grim, gritty style of heft. The movement away from any sort of residual Christian hardcore stigma is blatant (for anyone shocked by the F-bombs on the last album, get those pearls ready for clutching on Hallelujah and Numb), but there is purpose behind it too. Smashing through the titular ‘voyeurism’ of modern life—held into place by an overstimulated social media lifestyle that’s thrust upon us at every waking moment—is an obvious angle, but one that Underøath’s particularly pivot is well-equipped to tackle. The nihilism driving Hallelujah and We’re All Gonna Die feels believable, even more so when it’s sold by Chamberlain, again, in what may be his strongest performance to date, and the digitised bleakness and blackness of the sound he inhabits. The ideas and turning cogs of inspiration just get more apparent with each listen, the basis for something truly special to come from this current phase of Underøath to shake off the pejorative undertones of ‘post-hardcore lifers’ and replace them with something worthy of the excitement this offers. They’re ready to hit that pinnacle now, and it’ll be glorious when they finally do.
For fans of: The Used, Static Dress, Modern Error
‘Voyeurist’ by Underøath is released on 14th January on Fearless Records.
Words by Luke Nuttal