Reflecting On: Underoath – Ø (Disambiguation)

I’ve often said that Underoath’s sonic evolution has mirrored that of my own musical tastes. Maybe that’s just an easy way of explaining why the Tampa, Florida, sextet is my favorite band, but at a minimum, it showcases why Underoath has been so foundational in my understanding and enjoyment of heavy music. 

By 2010, I was three albums into my obsession with the band, who had originally opened my heart’s door to the screamo explosion before quickly expanding my palate to post-hardcore leanings with Define the Great Line and Lost in the Sound of Separation. I was ready for something new, but like many fans, had no idea what to expect.

You can buy or stream Ø (Disambiguation) on Apple Music.

That’s mostly due to the fact that by the fall of 2010, I was still wrapping my head around the departure of drummer, vocalist, and founding member Aaron Gillespie. The band’s inner turmoil and fractured relationships were no secret, but it was that tension that seemed to drive the band creatively, at least until the chasm was too severe. Nevertheless, any Tooth & Nail/Solid State fan understood the impact and possibilities with the addition of former Norma Jean drummer Daniel Davison. Whatever happened next stood to not only be the band’s heaviest work to date, but to determine the fate and future of the band.

Even 10 years later, there are times when I listen to Ø (Disambiguation) and ponder whether it is the best work the band has released. The album serves as the moment when Spencer Chamberlain became a full-fledged creative and vocal force. It showcases the band’s ability to graft new industrial and metal stylings into a familiar sound, led by guitarist Tim McTague and the brooding electronics from Chris Dudley. It also seems to be a relative footnote in the band’s history.

During the album cycle for Ø (Disambiguation), I had the chance to see the band live on two occasions. First, I saw them as openers for A Day to Remember, an experience that never set right with me and still feels hard to swallow. Months later, I saw them on their headlining Illuminatour in Louisville, Kentucky, in front of the smallest crowd I’ve ever seen at an Underoath show. The popularity of a band still at the top of its game was waning before our eyes. It almost seemed predestined in 2012 when the band announced their plans to disband.

Ø (Disambiguation) had accompanied me through a tumultuous time in my life, something that makes it feel even more personal and special in my memory. But the scene had changed, for better or for worse, and so had the tastes of heavy music listeners – at least in the circuit with which Underoath was most recognized. Be that as it may, it’s still hard to pinpoint what exactly led to the flame out.

When Underoath embarked on their farewell tour in 2012, I saw them play The Metro in Chicago in front of an energized sellout crowd. But something was off. As much as I love and respect Davison, the absence of Gillespie at the time felt palpable, especially for a band taking one final victory lap that included playing a large swath of songs that felt hollow without Aaron.

And thus lies the peculiar no-man’s land in which Ø (Disambiguation) resides. Upon the band’s reunion – with Gillespie behind the drum kit – it only made sense to return to those early works like They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line. When I attended the band’s No Fix Tour after the release of Erase Me, the band included “Paper Lung” in the setlist – one of Ø (Disambiguation)’s signature songs and one of the band’s best. But again, something didn’t feel right. Those songs belong to a lost time in the band’s history.

It’s a weird thing to think about. There will be no 10 year anniversary tour for Ø (Disambiguation) for a variety of reasons. And while it makes sense as to why the album feels so forgotten in the conversation around one of modern heavy music’s most important bands, it’s also a shame. Because it is a damn good album from a band that simultaneously had nothing and everything to prove. And, as always, Underoath came through.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: