Any real fan of Tampa, Florida's Underoath has been burning up in anticipation for their fifth full-length album, Ø (Disambiguation); and now after a blistering wait period, you can finally tear it apart with your own personal slew of criticism. Naturally, the "best album ever" people and the "terrible new direction" people will clash on the forums, but one thing is for certain: Ø (Disambiguation) has a much more distinct flavor than any previous album. The short time between writing the album and final polishing is indicative of some level of comfort that was previously over their heads.
Though every subsequent album that Underoath has released varies in execution, many agree that they hit their high point with 2006's Define the Great Line. Lost in the Sound of Separation in 2008 however, seemed to be dragging just a little bit. Now it is as if a new passion and energy for the music has liberated them from stagnation. Let's see, what's changed since then?
Could it be that former drummer/clean vocalist Aaron Gillespie was holding the band back? Nothing is certain, but the facts hint. The disembodied drum sticks have been taken up by Norma Jean veteran Daniel
Davison, who is also a long time friend of the band. Is he the oil to grease Underoath's gears again? Well, the unfettered pursuit of sound speaks for itself.
Ø (Disambiguation) jumps down out of nowhere at the beginning of the album. "In Division" pulls no punches. In a swift move, they display exactly what we're dealing with in the very first track. A gritty fusillade of grunting guitars and dark harmonies to match deliver Spencer Chamberlain's wide vocal range on a silver platter. For the first time ever, we get to experience the entire arsenal that Chamberlain has to offer. It's not just the deafening highs and lows we already love, but eerie, purposeful singing as well. It's a dignified mess; raw and honest. It's dark and dreary, but with excitement mixed in without the two canceling each other out.
A groovy bass line introduces "Catch Myself Catching Myself" and then plunges headlong into complete chaos. There's so much going on at once that it sounds like there are about six or seven guitars splaying out in quick succession. The experience is like a musical warzone. The quiet ensnares your attention just as well as the loud, and before you know it, the warzone is back with just enough intensity to bring you to tears. "Paper Lung" takes a step back with simpler force, like the soundtrack to distant carnage.
Davison clearly brings more than his oddball drumming to the mix. He's a brilliant menace, but carries a vibe that transferred over from his Norma Jean stint. It wouldn't be a far stretch to compare Ø (Disambiguation) to Norma Jean's recent full-length, Meridional. Apparently old NJ drummer plus Underoath equals new NJ. Chris Dudley's electronic maintenance to the music retains the Underoath in it, however. "Driftwood" carries you off into a strange sound mesh that melts the music away until only ambience and Davison's off time beat remains. The long interlude drifts off and then is trampled by "A Divine Eradication," aptly named. This track reassembles some violence and remembers Underoath at its finest.
"Who Will Guard the Guardians" starts off groovy, but turns very melodic and very intense. It utilizes repetition to force certain lines into your brain, "Only God can lead us down this barren land, and wake us up. We are the lost, and we are the abandoned." "Reversal" takes some digesting at first. It's merely a short patchwork of awkward noises and ambience, but hits the ground running again with "Vacant Mouth."
It's hard to call Ø (Disambiguation) an experimental album when no Underoath sound has ever stayed put. Nevertheless, this would be a safe place to move forward from in the major pivot point that Underoath is experiencing. Not only has the drumming and subsequent influence changed with Gillespie's departure, but the lyrics have also changed. Alongside the music, they have become darker, "I can't seem to find the light. Inside this empty room, I seem to lose myself." As the title of the album suggests, the album is drawing attention to the fact that Underoath never stays in one place and hints that the album is about nothing in particular. This leaves them to simply drift. This in itself seems to be a large theme, however.
Ø (Disambiguation) heralds the biggest shift in sound for the band in a long time, and perhaps begins a new regime as well. Regardless, every aspect is top notch. The chaos is instigated by professionals and controlled for your enjoyment. Chamberlain's full vocal range is a surprise, since he has rarely, if ever, contributed such beautiful and haunting calls. On top of it, his screams and yells have reached a new pinnacle, swinging freely high and low. Davison's drumming doesn't vary too much from Gillespie's, but he certainly brings more than drums to the table in musical influence. McTague, Brandell, and Smith intertwined their guitar work masterfully to both confuse and captivate. And of course, Dudley's keyboards and synth are the cherry on top, steeping every note in one more layer that makes them Underoath's. Not since Define the Great Line has Underoath sounded so honest. Ø (Disambiguation) delivers in every area that counts: improvement, teamwork, professionalism and entertainment.
- PReview date: 10/4/10, Review date: 11/7/10, written by Wayne Reimer of Jesusfreakhideout.com