It’s truly amazing that Underoath is still a band in the year 2010. After the great success of 2006’s Define The Great Line, the band unexpectedly dropped off the Warped Tour and disappeared, coming close to breaking up due to screamer Spencer Chamberlain’s personal issues. The band bounced back from that rough patch to release the furious Lost In The Sound of Separation. Despite everything, the band had emerged even stronger. But they had to pump the brakes once again. Tension and disconnect between the band (Chamberlain, guitarists Tim McTague and James Smith, bassist Grant Brandell, and keyboardist Chris Dudley) and vocalist/drummer Aaron Gillespie (the last remaining Underoath member) led to his departure from the band earlier this year. Once again faced with the prospect of disbanding, the band decided to fight through it, enlisting Daniel Davison (formerly of the Almighty Norma Jean) to replace Gillespie behind the kit. After a few jam sessions, the band grew closer, relaxed, and realized that they could attempt some things on their next record that they could never do with Gillespie (as it should be no surprise that he enjoyed the pop side of things). Many things have tried to destroy the Florida, metalcore outfit, but just like Michael Myers, no matter how many times you try to kill them, they always come back stronger. And what emerged from the band’s latest struggles and triumphs may be the band’s greatest achievement.
The band’s seventh album, Ø (Disambiguation), is the first to feature none of original members from their 1999 debut Act of Depression. But that doesn’t matter, as this group gives the band a cohesiveness and looseness they’ve never had before. The eleven tracks on Ø (Disambiguation) are incredibly diverse, as Underoath continues to push their musical boundaries. The first track, “In Division,” immediately gives your ears a completely new experience from the band, as Dudley’s programming bubbles beneath the rising scowl of McTague and Smith’s guitar riffs. The musical pummeling heard on the verses transitions into a fantastic alt-rock chorus, showcasing Chamberlain’s clean vocals, which harken back to the late Alice in Chains crooner, Layne Staley. In fact, the most significant part of this album is Chamberlain’s singing, as this album finally proves that this is his band. Without having to share or compromise his ideas, Chamberlain fully immersed himself into his songwriting, which led to results like the stunning “Paper Lung,” which is one of the best songs the sextet has ever created. It floats along like it’s lost at sea – until it is brought to its knees by an absolutely crushing breakdown over the course of the final minute.
In fact, it’s the heavy ambiance and atmospheric that appear on tracks like “Paper Lung,” the electronic “Driftwood,” and “Who Will Guard The Guardians?” that’ll catapult Underoath into that upper echelon among bands like Deftones and Thrice. The musicianship has never been tighter. The guitars groove, Dudley’s programming gives this dark album its eerie feel, and Davison’s drum work allows the band to attempt (and accomplish) styles and tempos they never could before. Ø (Disambiguation) is just the natural progression from their previous two albums. And although there is plenty of experimentation, it still remains an Underoath record at its core. Songs like “Illuminator” and “Catch Myself Catching Myself” flexes some muscular riffage from McTague and Smith, while “A Divine Eradication” and “My Deteriorating Incline” unleash some of the heaviest UØ songs yet.
Ultimately, however, this record is all about Chamberlain. Lyrically, he’s never been better; they’re vaguely dark yet very impactful. Expect to get chills down your spine when he dives to the depths of his vocals to scream, “Where is my fix?/Where is my fix?” during the crushing bridge in “A Divine Eradication.” Vocally is where the album comes together, as Chamberlain transitions seamlessly between his screams and cleans (most evident in “Catch Myself Catching Myself” and most impressive in “Vacant Mouth”). Fans will be shocked at how well Chamberlain can sing, thus erasing Gillespie from their memory. It shouldn’t be understated how much the songwriting of each song improved because Chamberlain didn’t have to compromise his writing style. The fact that each song revolves around his vocals only gives the album (and band) a focus that was missing from each of their prior albums.
It’s unfair to rank or compare this album to the rest of Underoath’s discography, especially the previous two. Each album showcases a different style and mindset, giving Underoath a diverse set of records that can appeal to anyone. But, after plenty of listens, it won’t be hard to hear that this set of songs is by far Underoath’s strongest. The elements of the band complement each other instead of over-powering, thus making Ø (Disambiguation) brutally beautiful and instantly memorable. Their past suggests that they should have broken up a while ago; instead Underoath’s present once again proves them to be the gold standard in the genre.