What an album rollout, huh? A lot has happened since last July, when Underoath kicked off their latest chapter with the release of “Damn Excuses” and began the rollout for the ninth studio album, Voyeurist. Originally slated for an October release, the album was pushed to January, leading to a slow trickle of single releases and even a brilliant album livestream event called Digital Ghost. But perhaps most typically for a band that has thrown more sonic curveballs than just about any other of their ilk, that six month stretch left room for plenty of discourse.
When the band reunited back in 2015, they kicked off their return with a massive tour which leaned into all the hits (namely, fan favorite albums They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line). But Underoath’s proper return in album form came in 2018 with Erase Me, which turned that celebrated reunion tour into a red herring. Erase Me was yet another new version of a band that has pushed its own boundaries since inception. While responses to the album varied widely, there’s no denying its impact, as the band solidified itself as a modern day hard rock powerhouse, playing to bigger crowds than ever before.
From the moment of “Damn Excuses” release until now, fans have debated which direction the band should take, but as always, Underoath have chosen to forge their own path. Voyeurist is another brilliant, fresh, and captivating chapter for a band that feels as in-the-moment as ever. Choose whichever era of the band you like best, but Voyeurist undeniably showcases Underoath as they are right now. And it’s really fucking exciting.
For fans that have avoided saturating their brains with those early singles, it’s truly rewarding to hear “Damn Excuses” and “Hallelujah” in rapid succession to open the album. The former feels just as angry as it did last summer, featuring some of the meanest guitar riffs Tim McTague has put to tape. “Hallelujah” is a modern day, bonafide Underoath classic, adding the haunting refrain of, “Cut the lights, face yourself / We’re not dreaming, this is hell” to the band’s short list of lyrics that feel custom-made for live audiences.
But it’s the following track, “I’m Pretty Sure I’m Out of Luck and Have No Friends” where the story of Voyeurist begins to crystalize. The song starts off slow, with interspersed phone calls to out-of-service numbers and 911, before Spencer Chamberlain’s quiet, breathy vocals provide context: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, you’re fine / All of this is in your mind / Focus on the rising sun, slow down”. Voyeurist is rife with anxiety and anger, generally captured as a period of questioning and recovery in the wake of the tolls of religion. “It’s not in my head” he concludes by the track’s end, inverting his original stance and kicking off a scorched-earth rampage.
It goes without saying that Underoath is the perfect band to explore this concept. While Erase Me began chipping away at the idea, it never reached the existential depths of death and dread that Voyeurist does, in part because the album’s music is expertly crafted to do so. Large swaths of the album are as heavy and manic as anything the band has ever written. Other parts lean hard into the atmospheric passages that have always set the band apart, driven largely by the work of Chris Dudley.
When those worlds collide, as they do on “Cycle”, it creates something breathtaking. It’s a punishing track from start to finish, with an exasperated Chamberlain roaring, “Carve out my eyes, I can’t see anyway / Darker than heaven, empty as god / There is nothing to live for”. “Thorn” spotlights another of Voyeurist’s strengths: the dueling vocals of Chamberlain and drummer Aaron Gillespie, a trademark from the band’s early days that has fluctuated in its use throughout the years, but is on full display here. The two elevate one of the album’s most thrilling choruses to its peak, with Chamberlain howling, “I’m your thorn” repeatedly. It’s a testament to his growth as an artist and vocalist over the years that it feels like no one else in the genre could carry the weight of such a moment.
Speaking of dueling vocals, “We’re All Gonna Die” is an album highlight that blends the heaviness of the rest of the album with a Chasing Safety-like melodic sensibility. Gillespie and Chamberlain’s one-two punch of “Let’s be honest, I’m heartless, I could care less / Hey, we’re all gonna die, don’t pretend to be alive” on the back half of the chorus is one of the catchiest moments the band has ever captured, which feels oddly disorienting considering the song’s thesis.
For all of its twists and turns, the back half of Voyeurist is all leading towards its finale: “Pneumonia”. For a band with a long list of epic album closers, “Pneumonia” may be its best. For an almost three-minute stretch in the middle of the song, Dudley, Gillespie, and McTague combine for what may likely go down as Underoath’s crowning musical achievement. It’s a stretch that captures the entire emotional journey of the album without the need for a single spoken word. It’s truly breathtaking. It’s the reason so many have followed this band for so long.
It all ends with some of the most guttural screams of Chamberlain’s career: “Weightless. Lifeless. Endless. No way back.”
Underoath have had the good fortune of working with some of modern rock’s most lauded producers over the years. James Paul Wisner, Adam Dutkiewicz, Matt Goldman, Matt Squire. The output of those sometimes strained relationships has always lent itself well to the tug-of-war thematic and music elements that set Underoath apart. But this time around, Voyeurist is self-produced, and you can feel it deeply in a way that’s hard to put into words.
Now nearly 25 years into their existence, throughout all of the lineup changes, the breakups, the internal struggles, Underoath feel as confident in who they are as ever before. It’s impossible to know what comes next, but right now, in this moment, Voyeurist may be the crowning achievement of a band that continues to carve its own path in the most interesting of ways.
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 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.