Reflecting On: Underoath – Define the Great Line

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A decade after its release, Define the Great Line remains a pinnacle of the post-hardcore genre and an album by which all others of its ilk are judged.

For Underoath, a band that released four classic records and influenced a new generation of heavy music, Define the Great Line remains their magnum opus – an album that showcases their talent and fearless drive. Still, the album’s very existence in its known form is a startling testament to a band with conviction.

Fresh off the heels of 2004’s breakthrough record, They’re Only Chasing Safety, Underoath had completed their first contract with indie label Tooth and Nail Records, making the Flordia sextet free agents prime for the picking. The band was courted by a host of major labels with big plans to break the group into the mainstream. If you close your eyes in a quiet room, you can almost hear the crystal sheen of a Safety follow-up on Warner Bros. Records, filled to the brim with pop-laden hooks and bouncing guitar riffs.

Instead of cashing in, the band quietly returned to their home at Tooth and Nail and entered the studio with Matt Goldman and Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz. What resulted defied genre expectations upon its release, shirking classification and launching the band to new heights. Define the Great Line turned the screamo scene on its head and dared its audience to follow.

Define is a heavy record, to be sure, but when placed alongside Safety, it’s damn near bone crushing. With hardly a chorus to be found, Define the Great Line found Underoath experimenting outside of conventional song structures, often switching tempos mid-track, keeping the listener off balance at all times. Listening to Define is akin to being dragged down a winding hallway by your shirt collar. But in the most therapeutic way possible.

Whereas Chasing Safety relied heavily on Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie’s call and response vocals, Define the Great Line is, without question, Spencer’s record. Chamberlain roars, howls, yells and cries aloud over the madness, only allowing Gillespie brief moments to speak. Those resulting vocal deliveries sound like pleading calls for help against Chamberlain’s manic battle.

All the while, Underoath explored new ground underneath the melee. Tim McTague and James Smith forgo simple riffing for complex chord progressions and bewildering breakdowns with help from bassist Grant Brandell. Chris Dudley’s keyboards and programming transformed from quirky background noise to a haunting bedrock that shifts tracks from disturbing to peaceful and back again.

Several minutes into the mammoth-sized “Casting Such a Thin Shadow”, nearly every trace of old Underoath is gone, with the band orchestrating one of the most beautiful and painful instrumental segments you’ll find on a post-hardcore record. When Chamberlain breaks through at the 3:49 mark with “Speak up, my ears are growing weary”, you feel his need for answers with every fiber of your being. I still remember replaying the track again and again on the day of the album’s release, trying to wrap my head around what I was hearing.

You could fill a book with descriptions of sonic acrobatics found on Define and the breath taking risk that such an endeavor was at the time, but equally impressive was the thematic content. In a genre where lyrical material can reach peak banal levels, Chamberlain experiences one of the most explosive existential crises put to tape on Define the Great Line. Here lies one of the most explicit, painful and ultimately beautiful depictions of a man alone with his thoughts, mistakes and regrets.

Underoath defied presumptions of a faith-based band over the course of their career simply by questioning everything they were expected to proclaim. The gospel preached on Define the Great Line consists of sitting amidst the hardest questions we ask ourselves and finding contentment when the only answer we receive is our own voice echoing off the walls.

This is an idea with which Chamberlain seemed quite familiar. “I stare so delicate and ashamed / At the shell I’ve shed myself from”, Chamberlain cries at the end of “There Could Be Nothing After This”, wrestling with guilt amid his defeat. Later, on “Returning Empty Handed”, he finds himself adrift once more, bellowing, “The floor is more fitting for my face / Here again? This is getting old”.

For all of the existential clamor that pervades each track on Define the Great Line, there exists a furious battle with the idea that we tread this journey devoid of company. During one of the most powerful moments in Underoath’s discography, Chamberlain repeatedly screams “We walk alone” as if attempting to jackhammer the idea into his skull. It’s a concept familiar to many – and one that is easy to accept in the middle of our trouble.

With such weighty content buried inside an experimental brew of the band’s heaviest work to date, it still seems unfathomable that Define the Great Line would translate to such great commercial success. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, moving nearly 100,000 units in its first week, effectively solidifying Underoath as the premier post-hardcore act of the 2000s. It also demanded that any band desiring to follow their lead stretch their boundaries or risk being left behind. It’s fair to say that the genre would never be quite the same.

Nevertheless, Define the Great Line came at a cost and nearly resulted in the premature demise of the band. A work of such transparency spoke to a real divide in the Underoath camp – one that splintered friendships and shook their foundation. Fortunately for fans, redemption ruled the day, much as it does at the end of Define the Great Line.

On “To Whom it May Concern”, Gillespie acts as the faint voice of the light at the end of the tunnel, singing, “At the end of the road, you’ll find what you’ve been longing for / I know ‘cause my feet have the scars to show”. It’s an unexpected twist ending with the album’s loudest theme being carried by its softest song. It’s also signature Underoath – a band motivated by unreasonable hope, devoutly unwilling to compromise its art. Ten years later, Define the Great Line’s message is just as powerful as it has ever been.

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 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.

Underoath Return From the Shadows on Rebirth Tour

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Nearly three and a half years have passed since Chicago crowded into Metro, an intimate venue in Wrigleyville, to say farewell to Underoath. That night passed all too quickly – an uncomfortable goodbye to a band that didn’t seem quite ready to let go, even as every sound bite and interview pointed to the contrary. The documentary that followed, Tired Violence, showed a band in distress, fighting against the fractures that time creates.

It’s almost surreal then to stand amidst a sold out crowd at Riviera Theatre as the lights go down, the crowd roars, and one of the most powerful and influential post-hardcore bands on the planet makes their grand return.

In truth, the pangs of heartbreak in light of Underoath’s untimely departure hadn’t even passed for many fans by the time the band announced their return late last year. They say time heals all wounds – apparently some wounds require much less time than others. What’s so pleasant about this rebirth, as the band calls it, is that nothing feels forced. It’s a team effort in which everyone seems truly happy to be together again.

Underoath

Underoath

As the Rebirth tour hits Chicago, it’s stunning to witness the response. Riviera Theatre is over twice the size of Metro, but on this night, it’s packed to capacity – breathing room is a luxury reserved for the outdoors. Given the turnout, you’d be inclined to assume the band had been absent for decades. On this night, the buzz in the building rivals that of the band’s initial breakout in the summer of 2004.

Part of the appeal surely lies in the offering. This isn’t a greatest hits tour, per say. Instead, Underoath is playing their two most popular albums, They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line, in their entirety. Several songs have never been played live. As two of the most influential post-hardcore albums in recent memory, it’s a special night, indeed.

The only question is, how does the band’s performance hold up three years removed from practice and six years removed from original drummer and singer Aaron Gillespie? Pardon the hyperbole, but the answer is: better than ever.

Hearing They’re Only Chasing Safety in this setting is a nostalgia trip of the highest order. As Spencer opens “Young and Aspiring” with the cry of, “Let’s not even try, you’re right / Let’s ball it up and throw it out the window”, the crowd roars the lyrics in unison. It’s incredible to see the band perform these songs all these years later, mostly because the band’s performance has improved so much since those early days.

Underoath rips through Safety, only stopping after the final notes of “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door” to address the crowd. Hearing tracks like “Down, Set, Go!” and “I’m Content With Losing” performed for the first time is a wonderful nod to the past. As two of the most enjoyable Safety tracks to sing along to, it’s still shocking that they’ve never made their way to the stage until now.

Underoath

Underoath

They’re Only Chasing Safety was a gateway drug for many, introducing legions of fans to not only Underoath, but to heavy music. In hindsight, it was a primer for everything that came to follow. After a short break, the band returns to the stage to launch into Define the Great Line, their groundbreaking follow-up. The transition from melodic screamo to ambient post-metal is jarring. Safety is a fun record, but Define marks the moment that Underoath dropped the gloves. It’s a magnificent piece of art in its own right, but in a live performance, it’s absolutely soul-rattling.

From the opening moments of “In Regards to Myself” to the final whispers of “To Whom it May Concern”, Underoath are in rare form. Guitarist Tim McTague and keyboardist Chris Dudley bounce about the stage with youthful energy, harkening back to the band’s early days. The complexities of Define’s track list allow Gillespie to flex his muscles behind the kit, even throwing in some extra fills when appropriate. During the final moments of “Writing on the Walls”, perhaps the band’s most beloved song, the crowd becomes a choir, led gracefully by Gillespie toward the song’s crushing conclusion.

Coupling the performance itself, the band’s trademark lights and visuals grace the stage. Screens showing accompanying short films and imagery play along with the music, offering an additional element to the auditory experience. While Underoath could have easily ran through this tour on the music alone, it’s this extra care for their craft that has always set the band apart. It’s nearly impossible to leave feeling disappointed.

Throughout the evening, Chamberlain will sporadically address the crowd, mostly sharing how happy the band is to be together again. “None of us thought this would ever happen,” is stated on multiple occasions. Whatever the reasons for the band’s initial demise, and whatever their reasons for reconciliation, is of little concern. Seeing the sextet on stage once more is enough to wash away any lingering apprehension.

When Underoath stepped away in 2013, it left a gaping void in the post-punk scene, mostly because it felt like the band still had life left in the tank. Whether this current rebirth leads to new music or simply offers an outlet for the members to keep playing the songs we all know by heart, it just feels right to have Underoath back in the mix. Judging from the turnout on their current tour, they’ll be welcomed with open arms for however long they choose to stay.

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 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.

Most Anticipated of 2016: #3 Underoath’s Unlikely Return

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They’re Only Chasing Rebirth

As post-hardcore finds itself at a crossroads, one of the genre’s linchpins has returned from the abyss. Yes, Underoath have kept their responses on the possibility of new music ambiguous, but with a full U.S. headlining tour slated for this spring, it’s impossible not to be excited by the potential.

It’s quite true that Underoath has nothing left to prove. The post-hardcore sextet left their mark on the scene over the course of their 16-year existence, dropping some of the most influential and important albums the genre has seen. Two of those albums, They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line, will be performed in their entirety each night of their upcoming tour.

Just the chance to hear Spencer Chamberlain’s roar alongside Aaron Gillespie’s croon once again is more than most of us could have ever asked for, making their Rebirth tour (and reunion with drummer Gillespie) compelling enough. After last year’s heartbreaking self-released film, “Tired Violence”, who would have expected such a quick reconciliation when the inner-band pain appeared so palpable? Time will tell if all wounds are truly healed.

The band has made no promises on their future and has not ruled anything out, either. Whether this grand reunion is the long farewell that never happened when the band took their final bow in 2013 or a rekindling of a much-needed fire in the scene remains to be seen. Either way, the anticipation is killing us.

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 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.

What to Make of Underoath’s Rebirth

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Nothing lasts forever – not even the inevitable break up of your favorite band. Recent years have seen an avalanche of reunion tours and comebacks, the most recent of which belongs Tampa, Florida, post-hardcore pioneers, Underoath. Not even three years since the announcement of their disbandment, Underoath will be hitting the road next spring for a full U.S. tour, with possibly much more to come.

If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that there’s clearly a market for such revivals. Fall Out Boy is bigger than ever since ending their hiatus in 2013, and bands like Sleater-Kinney, Saosin, Acceptance, Alexisonfire and many more are reaping the benefits of a return.

With the emergence of anniversary tours and accompanying commemorate merch, there are seemingly more reasons than ever to “get the band back together,” and Underoath appeared to be a prime candidate at some point. But for a band that so emphatically shut the door on their future, for a variety of completely rational reasons, does their sudden reemergence seem suspect?

The most common response to these sorts of announcements is to quickly cry, “Cash grab!” into the black hole of online comment threads. However, this sort of response negates years of history, hard work, natural ability and life experiences that members pour into their bands. Underoath were no strangers to inner turbulence, but their enduring friendships and commitment to their craft has been well documented.

There is no argument to be made that Underoath caught lightning in a bottle with any specific release and seeks to relive a moment of glory. The band’s final four albums stand as examples of post-hardcore excellence that today’s newer acts still aspire to. Underoath was more than any one album – each individual member’s talent and vision drove forward a whirlwind of clashing philosophies and sonic interests that challenged the boundaries of genre and kept listeners on their toes.

The most common reasons given for the band’s break up revolved around ideas of family and stability. After over 15 years on the road and in the studio, Underoath was spent, although not everyone in the band was in agreement about what that should mean. What is now clear is that a future was never off the table, even if the band’s wording upon their break was poorly chosen. That the return features the long-standing lineup of Tim McTague, James Smith, Grant Brandell, Chris Dudley, Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie speaks volumes. It truly couldn’t be any other way.

The 32-city Rebirth Tour will find the band playing their breakout album They’re Only Chasing Safety and their landmark follow-up Define the Great line in their entirety every night. Fans that complain about the absence of 2008’s Lost in the Sound of Separation or 2010’s Ø (Disambiguation) on this trek miss out on the obvious joy of this occasion and will likely find themselves in attendance anyway. This isn’t an encore – it’s a new beginning.

Will the band’s collective re-charged batteries result in more than just a tour? Does Underoath have another groundbreaking album in them? It’s certainly not unthinkable. No matter what comes out of this rebirth, the mere idea of it happening this soon is exciting enough. Underoath consistently pushed their peers to think harder about their music and their purpose – and we all benefited from it. It’s not hard to imagine their presence having that impact once again.

In an interview with Alternative Press, Gillespie stated that Underoath means “something separately to each one of us and I think it’s something separate to every single person who bought those records.” The band’s reach extends far, making this reunion a thrilling one for all kinds of fans. But this reunion also means something to the members involved. Underoath stands to make a profit from their rebirth, but the bottom line has never been the driving force. Whatever it is that has made this return a reality is fairly unimportant. It’s here – let’s enjoy the ride.

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 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.

Underoath Seek Help in Funding Documentary, “Tired Violence”

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Underoath fans, rejoice! The band have announced a documentary in the works, titled Tired Violence, which covers the band during their 2013 farewell tour. Shortly after filming, the company handling the film went under, leaving the band to finish it themselves. Pre-orders are now available to help fund the film’s finishing touches and include options to screen the film, followed by a Q&A with the band. Take a look at the video below:

You can view all of the pre-order options here.

Posted by Kiel Hauck