UNDEROATH–whose last three albums count combined sales in excess of one million copies–has worked diligently to reach this creative apex while building what may be the biggest metalcore following in the world. Through incessant touring and with a reputation for unrelentingly intense live shows—chronicled to perfection on the 2008 concert disc and DVD Survive, Kaleidoscope--the band has forged an unbreakable bond with its fans.
That allegiance earned the group a startling #2 debut for Define The Great Line on Billboard’s Top 200 Album Chart for first week sales exceeding 98,000 copies and marking the highest chart debut for a Tooth & Nail artist. On top of that, the band earned a Grammy nomination for “Best Short Form Music Video” for the surrealistic video for the album’s lead single “Writing On The Walls.” Critical acclaim for its thrilling mix of mayhem and melody, catharsis and experimentation came from both music and mainstream press alike. Alternative Press called the album “transcendent.” The Los Angeles Times took note of how “the album delves into new sonic territory, exploring phasing and untried guitar sounds…” And USA Today was unbridled in its praise of how “…singer Spencer Chamberlain howls against jagged riffs and rhythms that shift so suddenly he sounds like he’s walking an active fault line.”
Those same dedicated fans and enlightened scribes will undoubtedly embrace LOST IN THE SOUND OF SEPARATION based on audience reaction to the new material on UO’s summer 2008 trek headlining the Hot Topic stage on the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Tour, alongside the likes of Slipknot, Disturbed and Mastodon.
Inside the cinder block exterior of a non-descript, Northern New Jersey industrial park, the six men of UNDEROATH has congregated at House of Loud Studios for the final playback of the album. And as LOST IN THE SOUND OF SEPARATION unfolds, the band is clearly elated.
“Breathing In A New Mentality” launches the record with an ingenious false start that ultimately gives way to an innovative ferocity. Beyond exceptional, it’s a breathtaking, brain-rattling affirmation that UNDEROATH--AARON GILLESPIE, TIM MCTAGUE, SPENCER CHAMBERLAIN, GRANT BRANDELL, CHRIS DUDLEY and JAMES SMITH--have taken a huge creative step forward. By trusting their instincts, pushing their songcraft to the limit and meticulously perfecting it with Adam Dutkiewicz (Killswitch Engage) and Matt Goldman (Copeland, The Chariot), the producers of its aforementioned, gold-certified 2006 disc, the band has soared to new artistic heights.
“We wanted someone to hear it and have a first impression like, ‘Man they must have cut a lot of corners’,” guitarist MCTAGUE explains of the disc-opener. “And then it kicks in and your entire car, like, blows up. We wanted to come out, blow them away. Just shut people up. And in doing that, we’ve made the beginning of the record very memorable.”
The song also takes a subtle cue from Led Zeppelin, according to drummer AARON GILLESPIE. “It reminds me of John Bonham, when he would go in and record the drums on one side and then go back and record it all again. I wanted to bite off of that a little bit. If you listen to it with headphones, it really makes a statement. And then, when Spencer starts singing, it all comes together.”
If CHAMBERLAIN’s distinctly coarse vocals put a focus on new beginnings via sentiments like “Let me start again,” the sextet’s tense delivery is underpinned by intrinsic melodic guitar lines that continue to further distance UNDEROATH from the metalcore pack. When the blistering, forceful “Anyone Can Dig A Hole But It Takes A Real Man To Call It Home” takes over, the collective roar is heightened by SPENCER’s throaty proclamation: “Oh how the plot thickens!”
“I really like that vocal line,” MCTAGUE says enthusiastically. “Plus I think that’s one of the best musical pieces that we’ve ever done, in that each part introduces another unique part.” Living up to that lyrical promise, the dichotomy of “A Faultline A Fault Of Mine” follows, balancing CHAMBERLAIN’s abrasive voice with GILLESPIE’s lucid delivery. “That song progressed naturally,” SPENCER explains. “And it felt right. There were a few times on this record where I said to Aaron, why don’t we try to switch off of each other?”
So while scathing song-beasts like “Emergency Broadcast: The End Is Near” or “Desperate Times, Desperate Measures, the maniacally sonic catharsis of “The Only Survivor Was Miraculously Unharmed” and the invigoratingly brutal “We Are The Involuntary” all live up to UNDEROATH’s reputation as the world’s pre-eminent metalcore troupe, material like “The Created Void” offers a melodic reprieve.
“Naturally we’re a heavy band and we want to put our best foot forward in that respect,” MCTAGUE says. “I love The Created Void,’ one of the most melodic songs we’ve ever done. But the bottom line is everything sounds the way it does on the record because we agreed that’s how it should sound, whether it’s heavy or melodic.”
“We’ve had to work hard at being open-minded about our own art and let it flow naturally, MCTAGUE continues. We love melodies, but our instincts usually go in the other direction. Anyone familiar with our band knows that Aaron is a big lover of melodies and I think he’s a huge reason why certain songs sound the way they do. But we definitely proceed with caution to ensure that we’re being true to Underoath.”
“We all love a ton of different music,” GILLESPIE adds. “That’s what makes Underoath what it is. Regardless of whether it’s Spencer singing or me here and there, Underoath is the sum of its parts. And at this point, if one guy were to leave, we’d suffer greatly.”
Defying the band’s patented approach, the uplifting “Too Bright To See, Too Loud To Hear” is a beautiful, near-ballad lighter destined to become a fan favorite.
“I originally wrote the music without intending it to be a quote-unquote accessible song,” MCTAGUE says of the memorable soundscape. “It was a slow paced, slowed down jam-out song. We were actually out to dinner one day out by our practice space and Aaron pulled out his iPhone and he was thinking about that song and he said, ‘I wrote these lyrics’. And what he wrote was so meaningful. It was this huge statement.”
Citing the lyric “Good God if your song leaves our lips/if your work leaves our hands/then we will be wonders and vagabonds,” the guitarist continues, “Our band has always been this Christian band and we’ve always been open about what we believe in, but there comes a certain point where a lot of the messages in our songs are very ambiguous. And that was so bold and straight up, talking about how we’re all people but without purpose we can feel lost.”
Yet with such a diverse musical display coupled with the input of six opinionated souls, the completion of LOST IN THE SOUND OF SEPARATION--thanks in part to the skilled mixing hand of rock veteran David Bendeth--is an epic achievement. “We laboriously toiled over this record,” GILLESPIE admits. “Even when we’re in the studio, I don’t know if we’re all ever totally happy. There’s constant change until we’re done. I think we should always push ourselves to make the best music imaginable.”
To call the men of UNDEROATH perfectionists wouldn’t be far from the truth. “The writing process, when it’s fresh and spontaneous and ideas are flowing, is great,” Tim says. “But the initial excitement is pretty short lived, followed up with a lot of scrutiny. It can be intense. Getting six people on the same page is virtually impossible. But without that input and criticism from everyone to serve as a filter, I don’t think we could ever come up with the same songs. It’s a really hard thing to deal with, but it’s a very, very valid thing. That’s also the only way we know how to write as a band.”
For principal lyricist CHAMBERLAIN, who penned the bulk of the disc’s revelations, the singer truly embraces his craft. “I’m the kind of guy who is always writing, whether it will end up being on a record or not,” he explains. “Writing in a book about yourself can be therapeutic. Having met a lot of people over the two years since Define The Great Line, it’s been really interesting to see how our fans can relate to some of the things I’ve been writing about.”
Perhaps most notable of all the lyrics is the heartfelt sonnet that closes out LOST IN THE SOUND OF SEPARATION. At first stark, the largely instrumental, and keyboard-steered “Desolate Earth: The End Is Near”--initially imagined by Chris Dudley-- possesses a cold atmospheric feel until a cello elevates it. Shifting into a vibrant crescendo of MCTAGUE and SMITH’s guitars, BRANDELL’s bass and GILLESPIE’s drums, CHAMBERLAIN sings:
“…You said there was nothing left down here
Well I roamed around the wasteland
And I swear I found something
I found hope, I found God
I found the dreams of the believers
….Oh God, Save Us All”
“When we got done, that song made me feel a certain way,” SPENCER says. “I just wrote something down and put the mic down a hallway--because I wanted it to have a feeling of despair. Originally we were going to put it in the beginning but it feels right at the end.”
“It gave such a strong closure to the record,” TIM adds. “Being lost, searching for answers and finding hope, we really felt like it summed up the whole record.” If it’s arguably the most artful moment in metalcore to date, it’s the kind of unique statement that explains how inspirational UNDEROATH has been to its fans and vice versa.
“It’s really cool that people accept it and I don’t know why because this is just as therapeutic as it is for us as it is for anybody else,” says GILLESPIE, beaming with pride over what he and his bandmates have crafted with LOST IN THE SOUND OF SEPARATION. “I hope they find healing and some way in life and truth. I hope that for this or any record that I’m ever a part of.”