The best part about watching the weekly episodes of “A Work in Progress”, the recent studio documentary from Underoath, is seeing the members of the band together again: smiling, dialoguing, creating. It’s a sight that’s easy to take for granted given the amount of music the band has delivered in their two decades of existence and how close they came to a full-on collapse, but upon their long-awaited return, it feels important to appreciate every detail.
It’s been eight years since the Tampa, Florida, post-hardcore act delivered Ø (Disambiguation), which could easily have been perceived as their swan song. In the years since its release, the band has broken up, reunited, rekindled fractured friendships, battled with lost faith, and quietly crafted an album that no one saw coming. Across these 11 new tracks, you can feel every pulse and beat of that conflict and the relief that has come on the other side.
Erase Me is like no other Underoath album you’ve heard and very well may lose some long-time listeners upon first spin. But that would be a shame, because the album itself, like every release from the band, is a delineation of forward motion – yet another new take on the sound of a band that still refuses to be pigeonholed or confined to a genre.
In a way, early singles “On My Teeth” and “Rapture” are red herrings, respectively serving as a nod to the band’s roots and a clear model of an accessibility that has always been present beneath the surface. Truthfully, Erase Me largely lives somewhere in between, enveloping a gray area that has long been Underoath’s greatest strength. Thus, it’s quite difficult to put a label on it. You’ll find elements of alternative, industrial, and experimental sprinkled within.
Album opener “It Has to Start Somewhere” is an urgent allusion to both internal and external conflict, as Spencer Chamberlain howls atop rolling guitars, “If my tongue is the blade / Your hand is the gun / One of us ain’t going home tonight”. A sudden cut to a bedrock of programmed drums and electronic distortion, courtesy of Chris Dudley, finds Aaron Gillespie crooning, “This is what fear tastes like / Go ahead and make me numb”. It’s a moment that feels familiar and fresh – a reminder of how Underoath can make such a subtle moment feel so special.
These twists and turns pervade Erase Me, but unlike past efforts like Define the Great Line or Lost in the Sound of Separation, the band embraces choruses and melody. You can sing along to these tracks and simultaneously feel challenged. It’s a fine line to walk, and one that has been tested by others in recent years, but hasn’t felt perfected until now. The haunting synthesizers and soaring guitars behind “Wake Me” harken the band’s heavy tendencies even though Chamberlain never unleashes a scream.
The same can be said of “In Motion”, which finds Chamberlain and Gillespie sharing a call-and-response chorus that feels at once recognizable and like nothing else you’ve ever heard from the band. Keeping with the trend, Chamberlain’s closing cry of “There is no fix” offers a response to his questioning scream of “Where is my fix?” on “A Divine Eradication” eight years earlier. “Bloodlust” and “ihateit” lean hard into the band’s new melodic tendencies, offering catchy hooks atop complex, layered tracks that provide new sonic surprises upon repeated listens.
Yet for all of the discussion that will certainly surround the band’s new music, a greater conversation lies within the narrative. You’ve likely already seen headlines such as, “How Losing Religion Saved Underoath” or “’Christianity Ruined My Life’”, and while these flashy quotes allude to a very real thematic shift, they do little to do justice to the struggle involved in untangling one’s ties to religion. When all is said and done and Erase Me’s final notes have faded, this body of work serves the conversation well, but maybe not quite in the way you’d expect.
As with so many of Underoath’s albums, Erase Me is fraught with an internal existential dialogue that cries out for answers, many of which receive silence in return. It draws an interesting parallel – Underoath, at least in terms of their musical output, has never been a band to dwell on hard truths. Even at the height of the band’s popularity within Christian circles, it always felt like there was shifting sand below.
On “Sink with Me”, Chamberlain sings, “Hold me underneath the cold moonlight / Where I believe every lie you told to me / Tell me once more that I’m safe / I never believed so give me faith”. Juxtapose those words with lines from 2006’s “Everyone Looks So Good From Here” and you’ll find a common thread: “In a deep breath it all starts to change / Flip my world inside out / Honestly I like it better this way / When I mesh the night through the back of my eyes”.
Timeless narratives speak truth in our lives, but those truths can also evolve. As time and experience change our perspective, old words speak to us in new ways, which is why the songs from Define the Great Line still mean the world to me 12 years later, even though my worldview has shifted. It’s also why Chamberlain’s journey across the 11 tracks of Erase Me will speak volumes to others climbing from the wreckage of their own collapsed constructs. Solid ground has never suited them well, which is why Erase Me feels just about as honest as any work they’ve put forth, even if the general message is largely the same.
As the album winds to a close, “No Frame” offers a signature industrial, electronic Underoath audial experience, courtesy of Dudley. Chamberlain’s final words on the track stand out amidst the existential chaos: “Well I belong right here / Where the light runs from me / I don’t believe in fear / ‘Cause this place can’t haunt me”. It’s a poignant and potent message for our time – one of inclusion. No matter your age, your race, your sexual orientation, your belief system – you belong, regardless of where the light runs.
The members of Underoath claim to be the healthiest they’ve ever been as a band, creating their most honest work to date. Take that for what you will, but it’s hard to discount their conviction. To profess it all atop yet another sharp sonic turn that is sure to leave their fan base off-balance is just about the most Underoath thing they could have done. Don’t like the new sound? Give it time. This album is meant to be chewed on. And if you’re a fan of Underoath, that’s likely why their music means so much to you in the first place.
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.
Photo credit: Nick Fancher