When does a band’s “evolution” in its sound become so far removed from what went before that the band really ought to change its name? How many original band members need to remain for the branding to continue? And do these questions matter anyway when we’re supposed to be just judging the music?
If the answer to the last question is yes, then there’s cause a-plenty to deem Underoath 2004 a completely different band to their previous incarnations. Five years ago they were releasing black metal albums, full of double bass drums, heavier-than-thou guitars, larynx-scraping vocals and six minute songs.
Two years ago, with The Changing Of Times they turned metal-core, retaining much of the heavy metal assault but mixing it with a more punky, dare I say, emo vibe. Since then they’ve replace three members, culminating in the messy departure of vocalist Dallas Taylor mid-tour last year. And presumably that wasn’t just because he had a silly name…
And now? Well, now we have They’re Only Chasing Safety and Underoath have gone completely emo, right down to the use of James Wisner (Dashboard Confessional, Further Seems Forever) as producer. Frankly it’s a crying shame, although crying is presumably something your average emo-kid would sagely approve of.
Even if you ignore the fact that Underoath have undergone the musical equivalent of a sex change, this album does little to raise the heartbeat or send frissons down the spine. In fact, Underoath seem to be stuck between a (punk) rock and a hard (music) place, unable to decide what sort of band they really want to be.
The only vestige of heaviosity is in Spencer Chamberlain’s madcap screams, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Cradle Of Filth album. However, these sit at odds with the music – emo by numbers, basically, with its hostile but not particularly memorable guitar lines, and rhythms that skip around without ever settling into a cohesive groove. Ironically, if Chamberlain had done more singing (and there is some) but the guitar riffs had been “chunk-ified”, then they might have ended up with something a whole lot more appealing, just like their label-mates Dead Poetic.
From time to time, tracks do show promising signs, as in the more sing-y Boy Brushed Red Living In Black And White and Reinventing Your Exit. However, they then go and slightly spoil things with some incongruous electronic effects, which also rear their ugly head in It’s A Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door. The press blurb implies that the band see these seemingly random blasts of ’80s keyboard as something that differentiates them but if they really want to incorporate electronica into hardcore, they should go back and listen to Refused‘s seminal The Shape Of Punk To Come to hear how it ought to be done.
This all sounds rather harsh but in mitigation, They’re Only Chasing Safety is not a bad album, just a shoulder shrug-inducing one. It seems to have gone down pretty well among hardcore fans in the US, where it was released a fortnight earlier to the UK, but alas, Underoath left this reviewer under-whelmed.