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Define the Great Line

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Jun
Define the Great Line
Sounds like … a stronger, more visceral version of My Chemical Romance, Hawthorne Heights, Senses Fail, and other representatives of the emo-screamo canon.At a glance … Define the Great Line not only redefines the sound of Underoath, but also has the potential of redefining the hardcore emo genre. In Regards to Myself A Moment Suspended in Time There Could Be Nothing After This You're Ever So Inviting Salmarnir Returning Empty Handed Casting Such a Thin Shadow Moving for the Sake of Motion Writing on the Walls Everyone Looks So Good From Here To Whom It May Concern

When you think about it, it's a small wonder that Underoath has enjoyed strong mainstream success so far. For one thing, they're an emo band at heart, in a market already oversaturated with whiny, heart-on-sleeve rock soundalikes. And then there's the matter of their faith, boldly proclaiming Christ from onstage—generally not something that will enhance any mainstream aspirations. So how exactly does a group like that gain acceptance in the secular market?

Hard to say. Much like Mae, here's a band whose videos and radio singles received virtually no airplay in the teen-rock outlets, yet still managed to outsell most of its peers. Moving well over 350,000 copies of their 2004 breakthrough They're Only Chasing Safety, Underoath has become the first true breakout act for the label's Solid State imprint, and one of the biggest success stories to rise from Seattle's Tooth & Nail ranks since MxPx and P.O.D. Moreover, only 20,000 of those CDs were sold in the Christian marketplace, which doesn't have the same craving for post-hardcore. (Lifeway bookstores reportedly refused to stock Underoath product.)

It's still too early to say if Underoath will truly become this generation's P.O.D., but one thing's for sure—their new album, Define the Great Line, has all the makings of a blockbuster effort, much like 2001's Satellite was for P.O.D. Co-produced by Atlanta-based producer/drummer Matt Goldman and Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, Define the Great Line simply sounds huge, far removed from the tamer and thinner feel of its predecessor. Once recording wrapped, the disc was handed off to mixing guru Chris Lord-Alge, today's authority in mixing rock music. The results show.

Underoath's previous efforts rocked with propriety, sticking close to the formulaic confines of emo-core, with loads of monotonic screaming, scattered melodies, simplistic guitar riffs, and brutal pounding. This time, however, every component of the Underoath machine is amplified a hundredfold, as if to give rise to an all-new model of the band.

Frontman Spencer Chamberlain, for example, is no longer an indiscriminate, undecipherable yeller, but now a versatile vocalist, transitioning impeccably between feral shrieks, bestial growls, and melodic tones. As the newest member since the departure of Underoath's original vocalist, he seems more comfortable in his skin than ever before. Together with drummer Aaron Gillespie (he's the bona fide singer of the group), all vocal duties are handled seamlessly and with command. This being hardcore, it's still not all delivered with clarity and modulation—hence why lyric sheets come in handy to fully appreciate the record.

This style of singing/screaming is a trademark in any faction of hardcore music, but it would be empty posturing if not backed up with solid musicianship. That's where Define the Great Line is exponentially more ambitious than Underoath's previous efforts. From the opening strains of "In Regards to Myself" to the epic closer "To Whom It May Concern," the album isn't just louder and fiercer—its delivery is more accomplished too. Stock emo drumming gives way to Gillespie's most elaborate, polyrhythmic playing yet, and Chris Dudley's keyboard accents (when audible) are breathtaking to say the least. And here, the guitars of Tim McTague and James Smith aren't just an afterthought, but an integral part of the band's wall of sound.

As far as message, nothing on Define comes close to the worshipfulness of "Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape" off They're Only Chasing Safety. But the band is still unafraid to acknowledge God and humanity's need of him. In "There Could Be Nothing After This," Underoath charts the uncertainty of leaving the old self in favor of a life of faith: "Who have I become?/Oh God, everything all around me is crumbling at my feet/I stare so delicate and ashamed at the shell I've shed myself from." Similarly, the bulk of the album's writing plays out like conversations with God, self, or a third party—sometimes enigmatic, sometimes clear-cut with the band's convictions.

Regardless of what you think of the hardcore emo-screamo genre, Define the Great Line unquestionably transcends it as an album discontent with simply staying put in a single subgenre. Thus, it represents the best chance yet of appealing to listeners beyond Underoath's core audience, assuming of course that they can stomach the intensity. There's something primal, ferocious and grandiose about it, as if this was the mother of all lesser albums that predate it, including this band's own material. In a genre that has become as ubiquitous and indistinguishable as late '90s teen pop, kudos to Underoath for raising the bar and setting precedent in both Christian rock and beyond.

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