June 20, 2006 - Tooth & Nail/Solid State
There’s a church in Pittsburgh that, although named for a bridge on the city’s South Side, also has the best accidental summary of Christian heavy music’s m.o. in its moniker. And while Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community (that’s no joke) is just one of many young arts- and music-friendly churches in America right now, it’s also just the kind of symbol we on the outside of nü Christianity point to when we can’t understand what drives, you know, these people to high-five Jesus via loud, aggressive music. Metal, hardcore and God are just too disparate, too at odds with the Christian traditions even atheists understand--and anyway, don’t they all hate gays and vote Republican?
What this aside has to do with Underoath--a seven-year-old Christian post-hardcore sextet from Florida--is that the band’s new album, Define The Great Line, simultaneously embodies and defies everything such ideas of “Christian post-hardcore” represent. Outsiders not only to “true” heavy music, but also to hardline Christianity, Underoath seem acutely aware of the line that separates their spiritual core from the painful reality of being human--and as this album’s title makes clear, even successful musicians need help staying on the right side of that line.
It’s important to note that, between their 2004 mainstream breakout, They’re Only Chasing Safety, and now, this is the longest Underoath have ever existed in one lineup. Though he replaced band founder Dallas Taylor for Safety, vocalist Spencer Chamberlain hasn’t had such a presence as both frontman and lyricist until now. Fully realized here, his throat-shedding roar distinguishes much of Define, while his pre-Christian days as a wasted youth (he grew up in North Carolina, running in similar circles with Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara) define the struggles in its lyric sheet. Between Chamberlain’s deeply troubled writing (“In Regards To Myself,” “Writing On The Walls”) and drummer/singer Aaron Gillespie’s (“A Moment Suspended In Time”), Define sounds like a group-therapy session put to tape; and with this lineup finally playing as a unit--and artfully updating their early, brutal style with weird time changes and post-metal ambience--the end result is transcendent. Call it focused aggression if you want; “vision” works just as well.
Of course, aggression doesn’t always translate to hits; and though Gillespie brings melodic counterpoint to otherwise crushing tracks such as “You’re Ever So Inviting,” anyone expecting an update of Safety’s screamo smash “Reinventing Your Exit” should look well beyond screamo for insight. Define The Great Line is an album that transcends the idea of singles and deserves to be heard in sequence. And while it’s easy to follow Underoath’s struggle if you read the lyrics, you get an even better sense of how they’re overcoming it if you single out a line from Psalm 50--oddly enough read in Russian during Define’s ambient track, “Salmarnir”: “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Christian or not, that’s the sort of message any community of believers can understand.
Botch’s We Are The Romans
Norma Jean’s O’ God, The Aftermath