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.

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