Sunday, June 13, 2010

UnderOath, Dude

By Nick
It’s always fun to do a critical review. After all, there are only a few ways to say “Awesome riffs”, but an infinity of ways to describe your dislike of a band’s music.
UnderOath was a teenage infatuation of mine when I was going through my screamo phase. For those of you who don’t know, screamo is a portmanteau word meaning screaming emo, and loosely refers to any music with guttural screaming instead of/along with screamo. For those over 30, think of Roger Daltrey’s scream in the Middle of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and then imagine a song where the vocals all sounded like that. Yeah. Anyway, UnderOath is a hardcore (read: Metal without Talent) band from Florida, the same state that foisted Creed and Anberlin upon us. If it weren’t for Lynyrd Skynyrd, then I would declare Florida a musical dead zone.
UnderOath’s main attraction is it’s screamer/singer dynamic. Drummer Aaron Gillespie provides the “normal” singing. While it’s cool that he can sing and play drums at the same time, his singing brings nothing new to the table, only the same snarky voice and overdone enunciations common to emo/pop-punk/whatever. As for their screamer, Spencer Chamberlain, he sounds like Scooby-Doo with throat congestion. Seriously. You can’t understand half of what this guy is saying. His voice is so contorted that he makes the word “eyes” sound like “rice”, so on the song “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White”, it sounds like he’s saying “Rice, rice.” It’s funny until you realize that the band is taking this seriously. The screaming is so contorted, so unvarying, so downright awful, that it makes the album almost unlistenable. (And this coming from a guy who thinks that the scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is the best part of the song.)
As for their songs, well, I’m lucky I only have part of their album “They’re Only Chasing Safety” on my computer. Listening to the whole thing would be unbearable. The album opener, “Young and Aspiring” starts out with some electronic effects before going into the guitars, and then slowing way down. Why do emo bands feel like they have to slow down parts of their songs? It makes them feel like they drag on, as does the lack of song structure. Also, on this first track, Spencer does some sort of weird off-key talking, like The Sweet’s singer in “Ball Room Blitz”. Awful.
And it doesn’t get any better. “A Boy Brushed Red Living In Black And White” is about…something, and features lyrics like “Can you taste the fear in her sweat? You’ve done this wrong it’s too far gone the sheets tell of regret”, and “Well looks who’s dying now. Slit wrists sleeping with the girl next door. I always knew you were such a sucker for that.” And this coming from a group that’s been played up as a Christian band, and who’s Cds are sold at Lifeway. Parents of Christian Teenagers, take note.
“The Impact of Reason” is so scream-heavy that it’s unlistenable. And it’s got a corny, slow chorus. Why slow down the rock, guys. UnderOath aims for a sort of Pop single with “Reinventing Your Exit”, but the slow sections and the everpresent screaming keep it from becoming a catchy pop anthem.
And then comes the album’s set piece, “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door.”, a creepy song about the car wreck that killed the fiancé’ of Dallas Taylor, the band’s former singer/screamer. Car/Train wreck songs have been around at least since “The Wreck of The Old 97”, but this one is just downright ghoulish. With lyrics like “Tonight is the night that I let love aside”, and I've seen this once before, planned perfection sought in my dreams, hoping this could take you home", the song sounds like it’s about a guy who is letting his girl die in a car wreck so that she can go to heaven. Just what I've always wanted to listen to. And as if that writing a song about a friend’s dead girlfriend from the viewpoint of that friend wasn’t creepy enough, midway through the song, a choir starts singing “I’m drowning in my sleep.” If it weren’t so twisted, it would be one of the perfect soundtrack to one of those blood-and-gore car wreck films that they show high school kids to keep them from drinking and driving. On the plus side, the video concept was pretty cool (Watch it on mute if you can’t stand the music), and the title of the song comes from The Lord of The Rings.
Then, at the end of the album, which drags on and on (and that’s without four of the tracks.), the band throws a total curveball, “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape”, a super-soft acoustic ballad that features the high-pitched Aaron Marsh of Copeland on vocals, and declaims “Hey unfaithful, I will teach you to be stronger. Hey Ungraceful, I will teach you to forgive one another.” And then the biggest surprise comes at the songs climax, where one of the Aaron’s (I don’t know which), sings “Jesus, I’m ready to come home.” Of course, after that Spencer gives one of his awful screams and ruins the moment entirely, but it’s the one moment when the “Christian” band actually gives some indication of their faith. Maybe they were doing penance for recording “A Boy Brushed Red…” or something. The rest of the song still has the typical undecipherable Christian-Emo lyrics, like “Here’s my kiss to betray, desperate to touch the lips of grace”, and it was their breakthrough album. I bet that on their newer records they have resorted to “subtly Christian” lyrics.
The music to the album is mostly good, shining in some parts. There are some cool flourishes, such as the choir in “It’s Dangerous Business” or a neat electronic percussion breakdown in “Reinventing Your Exit”, but more often than not the music sounds gimmicky. Even when it sounds good, the enjoyment of the guitars or the choruses is ruined by Spencer’s scream. The music is not nearly heavy enough for screaming, so it sounds out of place, and the lyrics are sketchy and depressing. And before anyone starts saying anything, I am not against dark lyrics, or Christian bands singing songs with dark lyrics. The mortality rate for women and children in bluegrass songs is ridiculously high, and bluegrass performers sing these songs right along with hymns and gospel songs.
Overall, you’re best skipping this CD. It’s not heavy enough for metal-heads, and the screams are enough to poison it for any normal person. If you’re a parent of a Christian Teenager who’s trying to convince you to let him/her listen to this, proceed with caution. It may be a cleaner alternative to The Black Dahlia Murder, or whatever’s out there that sounds like this, but there are better bands out there with better lyrics, such as House of Heroes, The Wedding, or The Send. I give UnderOath the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their sincerity on “Some Will Seek Forgiveness”, but their other songs are not placed in an overlying Christian context, and therefore are in some vague no man’s land; not quite Christian, not quite Atheist, searching in vast confusion.
If you’re into heavier stuff, you might want to check out Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, a southern rock band that Dallas Taylor formed when he left UnderOath. It’s got some screaming, but the southern rock riffs are enough to make me forget that.
And I really hope that someone other than David Leach is reading this, because if it's just him he'll probably be really bored with this article.


  1. Bored? No. You are a very capable young writer. No, not bored. But sometimes it's like reading about Mayan dance forms - I just don't know enough to enter into the spirit of the thing. "Sreamo" had not yet found it's way to my musical vocabulary, though I do confess to listening to Roger Daltrey all the way back to 69? 70? when Roger looked like a Rock Guy and not a Homeless Shelter guy. Ahh well, we all get old. Love Daltrey or hate him, I will not look too long for a "Love Reign O'er Me," "Baba O'Riley," "I'm Free," "I Can See for Miles," "Won't Get Fooled Again," or "Who Are You" with this UnderOath group (WHOever they are.)

  2. If screamo has not found it's way into your musical vocabulary, don't worry. You are missing nothing. Although I confess I went through my screamo/metal phase back in 9th grade, due to the influences of friends, but fortunately I'm out of it now.