Part 2: I'm so sick of staring at the mirror.
When "They're Only Chasing Safety" was nearing release date, a four-song sampler from the album leaked. I downloaded it, unsure of what to expect, and was immediately blown away. As good as "When The Sun Sleeps" had been, this sampler was quite a bit better. New singer Spencer Chamberlain could and did scream his head off, but also appeared to be able to sing melodically, which set the stage not only for moments where Gillespie's clean vocals alternated with his own screams but also for moments where the two of them alternated clean vocal lines. "Reinventing Your Exit" was the first song on the sampler and the first single from the album, and on the verses of that song, Gillespie sang the first few lines and then Chamberlain took over, also singing melodically. However, when it reached the bridge, Chamberlain began screaming, and the alternating screamed and sang lines on the chorus had a doubled emotional intensity that reminded me of both Taking Back Sunday and emotionally-driven metalcore bands like Shai Hulud. If you can call up both of those sounds at the same time, it's guaranteed to make me love your band, and I loved these new Underoath songs.
The second song on the sampler, which became the opening track on the album, was "Young And Aspiring", a song that started dramatically with ringing guitars and humming keyboards fading in as Spencer Chamberlain began screaming, "So let's not even try!" On the last word of the first line, the drums and guitars kicked in and began playing an uptempo riff that started the song out with a bang. Chamberlain's screams were an obvious improvement from Taylor's on earlier Underoath records, having a much more sincere component. Taylor seemed to be going for a particular sound, while Chamberlain, both then and now, just sounds like he's expressing an honest emotion, screaming his head off in whatever way it comes out because he's too caught up in his emotions to modulate his voice in any way. "Young And Aspiring" also shows the ways that Underoath had learned to use two singers with two different vocal styles to their advantage. At one point, later in the song and at a point when its reached somewhat of a crescendo, Gillespie sings "You're a classic disaster with a knack for losing your exterior..." As he sings the word "exterior", Chamberlain bursts in, screaming "I'm so sick!" Gillespie's next line is "...from staring at the mirror," which is obviously a continuation of what he'd been singing before, but also has the interesting effect of creating a line from the combination of Chamberlain's most recent line and his own: "I'm so sick of staring at the mirror."
"The Changing Of Times" had been a somewhat experimental album for Underoath, but "They're Only Chasing Safety" took that spirit of experimentation a lot farther. For one thing, there were a variety of experimental textures used on the album, mostly as a result of the work of keyboardist Chris Dudley. Dudley used drum programming in many places on the record to augment Aaron Gillespie's drumming, which is quite accomplished in its own right--singing a good bit of the songs here never stops Gillespie from giving an excellent performance at his instrument. However, the drum machines that interject themselves into breaks and quiet moments on the album add an interesting additional layer to the songs, and are never unwelcome. Furthermore, we hear interesting keyboard textures throughout the album, sometimes taking the form of synth washes adding an additional layer of sonic density to the riffing, and at other times involving melodic keyboard lines that double the leads played by the guitars on certain riffs.
To a great extent, Underoath's sound had changed on "They're Only Chasing Safety" to one that didn't primarily base itself in metal. Things were still intense and heavy, and Chamberlain's screaming kept anything from ever seeming too poppy, but nonetheless, the riffing and song structures were more in line with the conventions of emo than metalcore. "Reinventing Your Exit" was the song that made this most clear, with its verse-chorus-verse structure and its dominance by clean vocals. At least half of the song is sung by Gillespie, the band's drummer, and we're once again left with the sort of situation created on "When The Sun Sleeps"--the supposed lead singer of the band is left with nothing to do but dance around on the stage for a great deal of the song. Chamberlain does take some of the melodic vocal lines as well as the screamed lines he is given, and there's a chunky breakdown in the middle of the song that gives guitarists James Smith and Tim McTague a chance to show their metal inclinations, as well as a chance for Chamberlain to let loose with unrestrained screams. However, for a great deal of the song, its Gillespie's clean vocals that take the starring role, and it almost makes you as a listener wonder how Chamberlain feels about joining a band to end up singing only half the time.
Thankfully, other songs on the album give him more of a starring role, and its songs like these that would ultimately point the way forward for Underoath. The album's second single, "It's Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door", featured screamed verses alternating with programming-and-keyboard passages and more melodic choruses on which both Chamberlain and Gillespie sang, and definitely had crunchier, more metallic moments. However, even this song was restrained compared to songs like "A Boy Brushed Red Living In Black And White" and "I Don't Feel Very Receptive Today", songs on which emo-ish song structures and melodically sung vocals took a definite backseat to crunchy guitars and screamed vocals. Even these songs were still a bit more emo than metalcore, but they made one thing clear--"They're Only Chasing Safety" was not the final stop on Underoath's transitional journey. "The Changing Of Times" had indicated a new direction for the band, and "They're Only Chasing Safety" began exploring that direction, but they still hadn't quite arrived at the point they were aiming for. That fact is even more emphasized by the album's short length--featuring 10 songs including a short instrumental and a somewhat longer chorally-driven finale that is more of an exercise in giving the album an ending than a true Underoath song, it topped out at under 36 minutes, and really only included eight fully formed new Underoath songs. "They're Only Chasing Safety" is Underoath's most "rock" album, its fullest exploration as a band of the potential inherent in their band to play rock riffs and feature melodic choruses. Ultimately, though, they wanted to be a more metallic band than this, and it was on their next album, "Define The Great Line", that they realized this desire.
I'll talk about that album in Part 3, which will hopefully show up here in a few days.
Underoath - Young And Aspiring
Underoath - Reinventing Your Exit