Chasing the safety of their last release, Underoath have returned with Define The Great Line, an album that undeniably marks the transition of how accessible metalcore can be. After two years of extended touring, the Florida sextet joined co-producers Matt Goldman (Copeland, Cartel) and Adam Dutkiwicz (guitarist for Killswitch Engage) to create a release that would showcase both talent and growth. Pleased with their six-man lineup and indie label Tooth & Nail imprint Solid State, Define the Great Line is undoubtedly a record that shows how masterfully a band can be both delicate and brutal with the same sound. Three apparent differences arise in this transition record: bottomless metal influence, the depth and variety of vocal work and excessive percussions.
With the breakout of They’re Only Chasing Safety (selling over 350,000 copies), Underoath—Spencer Chamberlain (screamster), Tim McTague (guitar), James Smith (guitar), Chris Dudley (keyboards), Grant Brandell (bass) and Aaron Gillespie (drums/vocals)—may have something to prove to their fans, among others, but this album goes to show they will never write the same album twice. Fans expecting to hear another arena-style, screamo album will be disappointed that catchy, sing-along lines from TOCS are stomped out by murderous guitars, blood-curdling and charming vocals, remarkable drumming and fragmented electronics. Underoath rip and roar without an ounce of hesitation.
In the first seconds of Define the Great Line, Chamberlain wakes the dead with an authoritative call: “Wake up, wake up my God. This is not a test.” “In Regards To Myself” shreds with high intensity and invigorate fans with an anthem they have been waiting two years to hear. And this is only the beginning. The following two tracks (“A Moment Suspended In Time” and “There Could Be Nothing After This”) reach out to listeners eager to hear diversity and range. While “Salmarnir” is an ever-atmospheric, spoken word track of Psalm 50:1-6 (read out in Russian). The track stretches over a short couple minutes and provides a subdued intermission which runs along the lines of “The Blue Note.”
The fastest song, which appeals to fans of The Changing of Times as well as They’re Only Chasing Safety is “Moving For The Sake Of Motion.” While the track begins rather ordinarily, it only goes to prove that Underoath can take something basic and escape with something of their own. Using “Writing On The Walls” as the first single was a wise choice, because instrumentally it speaks of what the rest of the album really gets into, all the while still keeping their artistic intergrity and not selling themselves short. It displays the brutality of metalcore, the range of atmospheres in the guitars and the collection of vocal variety. All in all these songs do not work well as seperate tracks or a single. Define The Great Line is not a collection of songs but rather as parts of an element. “To Whom It May Concern ” ends the album with a half dozen tempo changes that give listeners a chance to rest between thrashing session on this seven-minute song.
Strictly focusing on the vocals and lyrics, Chamberlain and Gillespie, are unbreakable. Underoath may be well known for their tag team vocals between Gillespie and Chamberlain, but Define the Great Line paints a canvas for how their dueling vocal performances have developed. Spencer has amassed more eruptive vocals since TOCS. His prominent scream is now accompanied by yells, shouts, growls and even bratty shrieks (“There Could Be Nothing After This” and “Everyone Looks So Good From Here”). And whether Aaron is singing against his own aggressive drumming or violently harmonizing with Spencer (“You’re Ever So Inviting”), his voice sheens at the comfort of their musicianship. When it comes to lyrics, Chasing Safety begged of bargaining, discretion and culturing wisdom. Define is marked with more personal battles and surrounds themes of identity, fear and repentance. While their Christian faith is still apparent, these songs do not sing like hymns; more so prayers.
While there still may be residual chords, riffs and hooks from TOCS hanging around Define(perhaps we can point the finger at Goldman for that one, as he is famed for more pop-driven albums), production is well-directed and non-confrontational. Thanks to the mixing done by the infamous Chris Lord-Alge (Green Day, Stone Temple Pilots), the free-flowing and monumental building of choruses punch through effectively. Vocals aren’t overran by instruments and the guitars strike without deflection.
Whether you’ve been an old fan, a new fan or a fair-weather fan this album is an awakening. With twists and turns in tempos, volumes and ranges, Underoath go big or go home (and based on their touring schedules, they don’t go home). Without a doubt, this album will be talked about for years to come.