Everything was a mess when Underoath broke up in 2015. There were no original members remaining in the band, conflicts had become insurmountable, and the bonds that had once held six men together were well and truly busted. It would take two-and-a-half years for the Floridian post-hardcore merchants to arrive at a place where they felt compelled to not only be in the same room as one another, but to share a stage together. In March of 2016, the classic lineup of the band reunited and spent the next 18 months on a world tour during which they played both 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety and 2006’s Define the Great Line in their entirety.
“We saw how much appreciation people had for Underoath touring again,” says Spencer Chamberlain, the band’s lead vocalist from They’re Only Chasing Safety onwards. “What was the most surreal thing was asking each night who’d never seen us before. There’d be at least a third of the crowd responding to that positively.”
Chamberlain goes on to explain how the experience of doing this run of shows allowed him to think about instances in which he, as a music fan, came to bands later than others while still considering himself just as much of a fan.
“I love Alice in Chains, and it doesn’t make me any less of a fan that I never got to see them with Layne Staley,” he says. “I’ve been listening to Deftones since junior high, and I didn’t get to see them play until I was 25 years old. I never got to see Nirvana, and they’re one of my favourite bands. Just because you’re younger or from a different generation, it doesn’t make you any less of a fan. So many people discovered the band after we broke up, and that absolutely weighed on our minds as we performed.”
When the Safety and Define tours drew to a close, attention was drawn to the next stage of Underoath in the present tense. In secret, the band began work on what would become their eighth LP, Erase Me. As Chamberlain himself will attest to, making a new Underoath record was a lot easier said than done.
“We couldn’t just jump right back in,” he says. “The process puts a lot of pressure on all of us. I don’t think anyone asking for a new record while we were out on the road touring realises that. When you’re writing, making songs, there’s naturally going to be conflict. Aaron [Gillespie, drums/vocals] and I knew we wanted to do it as early as our second rehearsal back, and we had so many different ideas of what we wanted to try. If it wasn’t for people around the world selling out the tour so fast, the rest of the guys might not have been convinced it was a good idea.”
Erase Me is a challenging record for the band. It’s the fourth to feature the classic lineup in its entirety, but the similarities to that era more or less end there. The album leans closer to alternative rock than it does to the chaotic post-hardcore with which they made their name in the mid-2000s. Chamberlain, in particular, is barely screaming anymore – his trademark vocal style which defined his role in the band for nearly a decade. Instead, he joins the clean vocal fray alongside drummer Gillespie in earnest.
“The truth is that I’ve been singing in bands since I was in high school,” Chamberlain explains. “In the band I was in before Underoath, that’s when I tried out screaming for the first time. That became kind of a phase that I got into at that point in my life. As I became interested in heavier and heavier music, the bands I was playing in became more reliant on screaming. The fact I’m known as a screamer is really just about the circumstances in which the music I was making was put on the map.”
Elsewhere, the album blends the band’s original fiery intensity with some relatively-unexplored territory. Although perhaps polarising at first, Erase Me will intrigue long-time fans into repeat listens. They may have based their comeback on nostalgia, but Chamberlain assures that the honeymoon period is over.
“We never wanted to go out there and be something we’re not,” he says. “This was never about recapturing the glory days of 2006 or something like that. We didn’t want to be one of those bands that go mining their most popular records and try to recreate them. To me, when bands do that, they just end up making records that sound like the B-sides from that era. Anyone who thinks that things are the same now as they were back in the day is lying. We don’t want this to be a nostalgia band; this is the sound of us reconstructing our whole lives.”
Above everything else, Chamberlain wishes to assert that Erase Me is the sound of Underoath as a united front. While that may seem a given, it’s been far from the truth in the band’s occasionally-troublesome past. “It’s always been divisive,” he says. “You’d have me and Aaron versus Tim [McTague, guitar]; or Tim and Chris [Dudley, keyboards] teaming up. There’d be battle after dragged-out battle. With this one, we learned how to work together again. Everyone’s voice is heard. This is a family, and we wanted to keep it that way.”
Erase Me is out now via Fearless/Caroline Records.
Image via Dan Newman.