There’s a moment on the DVD accompanying the deluxe edition of Underoath’s 2008 release Lost in the Sound of Separation in which David Bendeth, who was brought on board to mix the album, is chiding the band over dinner. According to Bendeth, the band doesn’t have it in them to write a hit song and make a splash on rock radio. The band begs to differ.
During the slightly jovial, slightly heated exchange, lead vocalist Spencer Chamberlain quietly sips his beer and watches the debate, before meekly adding, “I could write a hundred songs like that.” Perhaps it’s no surprise then that six years later, Chamberlain’s new band, Sleepwave, has emerged from Bendeth’s studio with a defiantly unapologetic radio rock record titled Broken Compass.
Since Underoath’s farewell in early 2013, Chamberlain has made no bones about his intentions with his new project. Name dropping bands like Alice in Chains and Nirvana frequently in interviews and speaking of his longing for the return of real rock and roll, it’s clear that he was fully prepared to distance himself from his past.
If this precursor leads you to believe the album is a dumb rock throwaway, it’s not. Quite the contrary – in fact, it’s one of the most thoughtful straight-up rock records to come along in some time. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not boundary stretching, it’s not all that controversial, but it is a big rock record with a big heart.
Chamberlain and sole bandmate Stephen Bowman certainly possess the musical chops to pull off this kind of a record, but Bendeth’s fingerprints truly cover Broken Compass from front to back. Not unlike his past conquests, Bendeth was able to take a raw, promising demo and turn it into an arena-filling symphony of buzzing guitar distortion, beautifully-placed keyboards and dramatic synthesizers.
Opening track “Paper Planes” is indicative of what lies ahead, with its eerie keyboard intro that blasts into full throttle before Chamberlain unleashes a massive, melodic chorus. Chamberlain proved his clean vocal abilities on Underoath’s final release, Ø (Disambiguation), but on Broken Compass he finds himself on another level. Think the most climactic moments of Cove Reber-era Saosin with the over-the-top power of Linkin Park.
On the album’s heaviest track, “The Wolf”, Chamberlain transitions from high-pitched croon to gritty chant, even reaching into his bag of old tricks to unleash a few of his renowned screams. Those moments are few and far between, and rightfully so. This isn’t a hardcore or punk record – not by a long shot. Chamberlain lives in his new wheelhouse of dark, brooding verses that explode into powerful, anthemic choruses.
Musically, the album has a little bit of everything. “Disgusted : Disguised” opens with a dark piano backed by spacey electronics that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Underoath’s atmospheric tracks. “Whole Again” begins with a disturbing, sinister dance beat before Chamberlain releases his inner Trent Reznor with some creepy spoken-word vocals. Bowman adds his own touch with some sweet guitar riffs throughout “Rock and Roll is Dead and So Am I”.
As odd as these combinations sound, it works and nothing ever feels totally out of place. Part of this is due to Bendeth’s touch and ability craft ear-pleasing segments that connect well. Part of it is due to Chamberlain’s obvious vision and desire for massive sounding radio rock. One listen to lead single “Through the Looking Glass” proves this. The song is hand-crafted to appeal to a huge audience, and it very likely will.
The album’s themes fit the sound and revolve around the idea of one having lost their way and searching for a new direction. Chamberlain’s struggles with regret and meaning can be found throughout, but glare most notably on the album’s powerful title track. When he unleashes the eyebrow-raising final lines of “They’re not going to change me / They’re not going to save me / I’ll just save my fucking self”, it’s clear that a new era has begun.
As a debut, Broken Compass serves itself well in introducing a fresh start for Chamberlain. Sleepwave is not meant to be an extension of Underoath, but a completely new animal with new motives and intentions. While the accessibility of the album may rub some the wrong way, it’s sure to delight others and garner a whole throng of new listeners.
Broken Compass is a radio rock record in the best way possible. There’s too much talent here to proclaim it as a guilty pleasure – instead, it chips away at the walls many of us have put up to keep “those” kind of bands out. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a starting point. And if Chamberlain really can write “a hundred songs like that,” there’s going to be plenty more where this came from.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.