Part 1: "Why is Underoath Christian?"
Underoath have released two new albums in the last few months; a live one called "Survive Kaleidoscope", and a new studio venture called "Lost In The Sounds Of Separation". I've been a fan of Underoath since I heard their album "The Changing Of Times", back in 2002. I fell in love with the combination of melodic passion and metalcore intensity that they brought to the fore on the album's opening track, "When The Sun Sleeps". That album and their followup, "They're Only Chasing Safety", represented a gradual increase in talent and creativity from Underoath, and with their 2006 album "Define The Great Line", and on their new releases, they prove themselves to be a band working at not only their personal peak but the peak of their genre.
It's hard to talk about Underoath with the great majority of people who like the style of music that I like, though. They run into a stumbling block that is just too much for them to overcome. That stumbling block is Underoath's stated religion--Christianity. A lot of people in the metal and hardcore undergrounds have a serious aversion to Christianity, and a mere whiff of it is enough to derail them from any further appreciation of a band they might otherwise have liked. The title of this post was the title of a message board thread made in 2003 on a board I used to participate in. It made me sad, not only because of the mentality that inspired the initial post, but because a lot of the respondents agreed, and stated that they had liked Underoath upon first listen but had turned away from them once they learned of their religion.
This kind of thing makes me sad. Personally, I am not a Christian. I'm not someone with any particular religious beliefs, and if I really wanted to nail down my personal inclination, it would probably be somewhere between agnosticism and flat-out atheism. But I'm perfectly willing and able to tolerate, accept, and appreciate the religious beliefs of other people. I'm not one who feels I can state with any authority that my personal beliefs are correct. Hey, we'll find out when we're dead, right? Maybe not even then. What I can appreciate about Underoath is that their music is driven not by overt attempts to preach to people about a particular religious belief (even if it's one that they've made perfectly clear that they themselves hold), but by an attempt to reach out to people, to inspire them to believe most of all in themselves and in the idea that things can get better and that there is hope in the world. "Define The Great Line" is a concept album about a moment of clarity at a personal low point, about finding the courage and strength to continue believing that life is worth it even as everything is falling down around you. It's an album that features lines like, "Why don't you take steps away from being alone? I swear it's not too late for you," and "I hate the me that I've become--this needy, useless, forgetting one." I could relate to what they were saying, about depression and despair and self-loathing, but also about continuing to strive to make things better and to find a way forward. The fact that their personal way forward was towards their Christian God was not something that ever took a major place in the lyrics. It was hinted at a few times, but that was all. It was enough to make it so I could relate to the record on a deep and powerful level without ever feeling like it wasn't for me because I didn't share the religion of those who made it.
See, the thing to me is this: Underoath are on my wavelength. I'm a person who struggles a lot with depression and the pointlessness of life, who reaches for reasons to keep living and doesn't always find them. I seek, in music, for handholds, for things to keep me going. That's why I've fallen in love, over the years, with bands like Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance, bands who play intense music that expresses these sorts of emotions. It's a way to feel less alone, to derive hope in a hopeless situation. A lot of the heavier, more metal stuff I like comes from a place of darkness and anger, and doesn't have much of a positive message at all. I like a lot of that stuff quite a bit, but it's not what I turn to in my darkest hours. The stuff I reach for at my most desperate moments is stuff that has some sort of more positive striving embedded in it, even if that's only expressed in a sort of empathy for those on the bottom. Maybe that's why I love the later Black Flag albums more than the earlier ones; because I can relate a lot more to sentiments like the ones expressed in "The Bars" and "Sinking" than I can to those in "Jealous Again" or "Six Pack". And maybe that's why one of the brutal, metallic hardcore bands that has always touched me the most is Catharsis. A band who wrote songs called things like "Choose Your Heaven" and "Every Man For Himself (and God Against Them All)" would probably find the idea of being directly compared to a Christian band anathema, but it's a comparison I think is fitting. Catharsis were always reaching for something more, something better, in their music as well. Their answers may have been different, ultimately, but there is a dotted line that can be drawn between the last seconds of "Unbowed" by Catharsis, in which singer Brian D. screamed, "I'm still alive in the land of the dead!", and the last moments of "Desolate Earth/The End Is Near" by Underoath, in which Spencer Chamberlain sings, "I roamed around the wasteland and I swear I found something. I found hope, I found God, I found the dreams of the believers." No, they're not the same, but in their own way, they're similar. Maybe we who move through the world without faith in a particular higher power aren't so different from those who believe, after all.
I don't know. What I do know is that I want to discuss in detail the music of Underoath, especially that which is contained on "Define The Great Line" and "Lost In The Sounds Of Separation". However, I'm already late for the things I'm supposed to be doing today, so that will have to wait for another time. Here's a song to tide you over.
Underoath - Coming Down Is Calming Down