By: Nick Villers
Release Date: January 14, 2022
FFO: 2004-2009 post-hardcore/emo scene, Alexisonfire, Norma Jean, The Devil Wears Prada
Not many bands out there can say they’ve released their second “first” record. But before we get into what that means, let’s talk about what a first record is. It’s raw, full of emotion, and for most bands, it travels like a bus going over 50 mph with Keanu Reeves on board, unhinged in hopes anyone will give it a listen. There’s no expectation as the bar hasn’t been set. It’s freeing and purely a “well let’s see what happens.”
For Underoath, this is what happened on their first record 'They're Only Chasing Safety' (as to the current iteration of UO). The album was written and recorded over the course of a couple weeks and would catapult them to unexpected Warped Tour stardom. TOCS was the spark to light Underoath's career. They were defined by raw, high energy, post-hardcore mixed with catchy, emo driven melodies, developing a devoted fanbase overnight.
After reaching the highest peaks of success in 2008, breaking up in 2013, and reuniting as a band in 2015, Underoath released their first record back together in 2018, ‘Erase Me’. It was polarizing. It was the first record in 10 years with original member Aaron Gillespie. It was Grammy nominated for their single "On My Teeth". But regardless of its success on paper, it felt cumbersome by both fans and admittedly Underoath themselves as it was an experiment for them to write a more mainstream and radio friendly record.
They learned a lot about themselves over the last four years which brings them to their second "first" record, 'Voyeurist'. Ok, what is a second "first" record?! UO has picked up where they left off after 2008’s release of ‘Lost In The Sound of Separation’ but with an added 14 years of experience, maturity, and digging deep to who they are as people and their relationships with each other. This album brings similar excitement felt from 'They're Only Chasing Safety' and 'Define the Great Line', making older millennials consider bringing their youth XL rec center tees and sideways studded belts out of retirement. One thing is for certain, Underoath is reminding us why they’ve had such a permanent mark on the metalcore scene for almost two decades and that they still indeed got it.
‘Voyeurist’ feels like a first record again.
In classic fashion to start the record, UO runs through the wall like the Kool Aid man. "Damn Excuses" is an opening heater that has the heavy prowess of their 2008’s “Breathing In A New Mentality”. Clocking in just under 3:00, it’s fast, in your face, and brings an element of nu metal/industrial heaviness that will make you think, "what the hell just happened?"
As you’re still trying to find your seat belt for this ride, you’re immediately thrown into the track, “Hallelujah”, welcomed by a choir belting, “Cut the lights, face yourself / We’re not dreaming, this is hell.” There are haunting familiarities of 2004’s “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door”, when UO featured a church choir to lead one of the most iconic breakdowns in metalcore history. However this choir is the focal point throughout the entirety of the song, adding a unique twist to a historic, iconic sound.
Throughout ‘Voyeurist’ you hear easter eggs reminiscent of their greatest works, whether it's intended or not. Examples include the return of using audio sampled interludes in “I’m Pretty Sure I’m Out of Luck and Have No Friends”. Additionally, the song title sounds like a sequel to 2004's “I’ve Got Ten Friends and a Crowbar That Say You Ain’t Gonna Do Jack”. On “Cycle” featuring Ghostemane, the track literally “cycles” a driving, high intensity ending similar to “I’m Content With Losing”. Most notably, there is a welcomed return and presence of Aaron Gillespie’s vocals which were mostly absent on 'Erase Me'.
To be clear - ‘Voyeurist’ doesn’t sound like TOCS and DTGL but the record returns to what makes them great and who they are:
It's progressive and rough around the edges rather than adhere to what the “labels” want.
They did what’s right for them and no one else.
It’s a culmination of all their work, bringing out the best elements from everything they've done, while pushing the envelope to who they are now.
The growth you hear from Underoath is refreshing as they continue to develop as songwriters, musicians, and for the first time as producers self producing their own work. The progressive moments are prevalent throughout. The 7 minute build-up behemoth “Pneumonia” rivals their greatest closing songs from “To Whom It May Concern” to “In Completion” led by Tim McTague’s haunting reverb, melodies, and emotional guitar work. Chris Dudley’s synth/electronic drenched sounds in “Hallelujah” are likened to a sci-fi movie score (Chris is a composer outside of Underoath). Spencer and Aaron’s complementary vocal work in “Thorn”, “Numb”, and “Take A Breath”, show the breadth and depth of their abilities together as vocalists.
Lyrically, Spencer and Aaron don’t hold back, drilling their lyrics to your core. In the brash anthem, “We’re All Gonna Die”, Spencer addresses his personal experience with organized religion bluntly and unapologetically, “Hey we’re all gonna die, don’t pretend to be alive. You’re not alive.” On the melodic driven “Numb”, Gillespie honestly delivers, “We can’t just walk away. We’re covered in mistakes. I think we’re numb.” You can feel the emotion and authenticity to their words after the years of experience they’ve gained as a band and as people.
‘Voyeurist’ shines because Underoath sticks to their values writing a complete record meant to be listened to in its entirety from start to finish. Every song contributes to the whole that is ‘Voyeurist’ while having an individuated identity. The strength of this record is highlighted on the back half of the record. The last four tracks carry some of the biggest choruses, heaviest breakdowns, and emotional moments, captivating you to stay for the entire ride. The album clocks in at a little over 38 min but instinctively feels shorter. This is due to Underoath’s ability to keep a consistent flow from one track to the next but at the same time, create ambiguity and mystery to where they’re heading, creating one moment of anticipation to the next.
What makes me appreciative of this record is not just that it’s one of the strongest works in Underoath's well-decorated catalog but the vulnerability the band had to show to get there. Being their first self produced record, they had to air out their grievances with each other after years of avoidance, passiveness, and misunderstandings. Doing so resulted in some of their best work to date and strengthened their relationship with each other, which is ultimately most important.
‘Voyeurist’ feels like a familiar friend you used to know but has lived life, grown up, and isn’t afraid to show you who they are now. It’s brought Underoath to a second "first" era. And if this era is anything like their glory years, we better get ready to come out of mosh retirement. Now, go practice hardcore dancing in your living room. You're going to need it.