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.

Underoath Observatory Kicks Off with “Lost in the Sound of Separation”

I attended a concert on Friday. Sure, I wasn’t standing front row in a sweaty venue, camera in tow, earplugs in place, absorbing the experience amidst a sea of other fans. But I still enjoyed every second.

Underoath, who recently completed a live-streamed Twitch series breaking down each of their albums, have begun a string of three shows on consecutive Fridays titled Underoath Observatory. Each show will explore one album in its entirety. The event kicked off with Lost in the Sound of Separation and will be followed by Define the Great Line on July 24 and They’re Only Chasing Safety on July 31.

Aaron Gillespie (screengrab by Twitter user @jmcjmc451)

This experience was obviously a no-brainer for me. Although I’ve seen the band live nine times, I never turn down another opportunity if it’s within driving distance. And this Friday’s performance of Lost in the Sound of Separation – my favorite album from my favorite band – is something I’ve been waiting on for a long time.

Two years ago, on the album’s 10th anniversary, I pondered why the album hasn’t been given a fair shake alongside Define and Safety since the band’s reunion. I was fortunate to see Underoath during their headlining tour for Separation in 2008, but even then, several key songs from the album (including my favorite, “A Fault Line, A Fault of Mine”) were left off the playlist. Having the chance to see the album performed in whole, filling in the gaps on my “Underoath Songs I’ve Seen Live” bingo card, was something I couldn’t pass up.

Spencer Chamberlain (screengrab by Twitter user @jmcjmc451)

The band has long been heralded as a great live act, putting more effort than most into their on-stage production. Seeing Underoath live is more than just seeing the six members perform on stage. Each tour is like its own piece of performance art. And in typical fashion, the band has spared no effort in this endeavor. Thankfully for fans, so many musicians have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to explore live-streamed performances, but Underoath Observatory is on another level.

From the lightning to the camera work to the fantastic quality of the sound production, Friday night’s performance felt every bit like experiencing the band up close and personal (minus the sweat and ear-ringing). Each track felt special, but seeing the band explore songs never performed on stage was a delight. The liberty the band took on album closer “Desolate Earth: The End is Here” may have been a highlight.

But then again, it’s hard to pick one moment. About an hour after the stream ended, the rendered video from the performance was put online for ticket-purchasers to re-visit. Without hesitation, I poured myself another drink and relived the experience again.

In times like this, we savor every opportunity we can find to cherish our favorite music. It’s not lost on fans how important it is to support the artists we love who have lost their ability to make a living on the road. If you’re a fan of Underoath (or heavy music, in general), you can still grab tickets to the next two performances at UnderoathObservatory.com. And don’t forget to snag a vinyl copy of one of the three albums.

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.

Reflecting On: Underoath – Lost in the Sound of Separation

Underoath’s sixth studio album, Lost in the Sound of Separation, released on Tuesday, September 2, 2008. I purchased a copy of the album on my birthday, three days prior, thanks to a very cool FYE employee who retrieved a deluxe version of the record from the store’s back room, quietly informing me not to tell anyone as he handed me the CD. I proceeded to listen to the album non-stop for well over a week, soaking in every detail I could.

You can buy or stream Lost in the Sound of Separation on Apple Music.

I share this story because it was one of the last times I would be so excited about an album – so eager and impatient that I would boldly ask a retail employee to let me buy the album before it went on sale. So enthralled with a band that I would schedule my days to ensure time was carved out for quiet, uninterrupted listening sessions.

By the release of Lost in the Sound of Separation, Underoath was still on top of the heavy music world, with 2006’s Define the Great Line landing at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and launching the band to a new level of stardom. Not only did that album set the stage for the next decade of post-hardcore, it showcased a band that was unafraid to take risks.

Sharing the same production team (Adam Dutkiewicz and Matt Goldman) as Define, Lost in the Sound of Separation feels like a brilliant second chapter – one in which the story’s authors had fully honed the very craft that made their art so acclaimed in the first place. It is at once violently chaotic and oddly serene.

If They’re Only Chasing Safety holds the title of Underoath’s most accessible work and Define the Great Line as their most critically acclaimed, Lost in the Sound of Separation may very well be the best work ever released by one of the genre’s most revered bands. Call it their In Utero – a thematically and sonically dense, under-appreciated album that now flies mostly under the radar for lack commercial appeal.

Also, much like that Nirvana classic, Separation was created to be raw and real. The band utilized space and setting when recording the album in hopes of making something that could be translated to a live setting without tricks. Passages that required vocal layering employed all members of the band. Long hallways and nooks and crannies were used to add natural effect and echo. Guitar tracks were laid down without cutting out natural flaws in performance.

At a time when heavy music had begun fully embracing the kind of clean, pure production that made albums like They’re Only Chasing Safety such a smash, Underoath bucked in the opposite direction. Despite its aforementioned similarities to Define the Great Line, deep listens reveal the idiosyncrasies that set it apart.

Spencer Chamberlain’s opening cries of, “I’m the desperate and you’re the savior” remain one of the most distinct moments in the band’s catalogue. The brutal opening to the record is intensified by the lack of vocals from Aaron Gillespie, who doesn’t join the fray until a few minutes into the second track. Nevertheless, his presence is felt throughout thanks to the most stick-splintering drumming of his career.

The electronic influence of Chris Dudley is at its most sinister on Separation – listen back to the haunting keyboards that bring “A Fault Line, A Fault of Mine” to a close and ask yourself if the concept was ever used as effectively on another hardcore record. Guitarists Tim McTague and James Smith combine with bassist Grant Brandell for dark, sludgy passages on “Emergency Broadcast: The End is Near” that mark a startling departure from anything the band had put to tape at the time.

Later, on the criminally underrated “Coming Down is Calming Down”, McTague shreds so hard that you can hear every squeal and squawk of his guitar. By the album’s end, the chaos subsides on “Too Bright to See, Too Loud to Hear” and “Desolate Earth: The End is Here”, giving way to a darkly delicate close featuring a cello and a muffled Chamberlain crying out for God to “save us all.” It’s a chilling end, to be sure, and interpretations of the outcome are certain to vary.

Impressively, for all of its bite and brutality, Lost in the Sound of Separation debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200, leading to more headlining tours and top billings at festivals. Nevertheless, the album’s cycle would become linked with a transition for the band, as Aaron Gillespie stepped away before the band would record Ø (Disambiguation) and disband. Like each of Underoath’s releases, Separation is a time capsule inescapably linked with storylines and intrigue.

When the band reunited for 2016’s Rebirth Tour, I found it interesting that the band chose to play Safety and Define in their entirety. While certainly their most commercially successful and “popular” releases, the absent Separation seems to hold a deep connection for many longtime fans. Even now, the band seems hesitant to explore the record, including only “Breathing in a New Mentality” on setlists. It’s hard not to wonder why the album that was created with live performances in mind is so rarely chosen for that setting.

While I await the day that tracks from Lost in the Sound of Separation find their way back into Underoath setlists, I have carried on a decade-long tradition of celebrating the album on my birthday with focused, intentional listens that remind of how I felt in 2008 when the album was everything I had been waiting for. It’s still just as satisfying as it was back then, and to me, that is truly the sign of a great album.

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.