It’s easy to envision Spencer Chamberlain whipping his long, sweaty strands from his face to pierce the crowd with his intense stare before growling, amidst a break in the chaos, “Oh, how the plot thickens!”
This poignant moment during Underoath’s latest release, Lost in the Sound of Separation, should make anyone—from avid fan to casual listener—question whether the band could even contemplate playing their older material anymore.
“If we could not play ‘Boy Brushed’ for a tour I’d be stoked,” Underoath bassist Grant Brandell says. “Not that I hate that song, but I hate playing it. I’ve been playing it for three years straight.”
Their latest offering spans 11 tracks that build on the intensity of their gold-certified album Define the Great Line, and crosses areas of experimentation they’ve rarely touched in the past—a stark departure from the poppier sound of They’re Only Chasing Safety (2004), which “Boy Brushed” comes from. But with their new album poised to thrust them to the pinnacle of the heavy music scene (and no, the terms metalcore and screamo do not justly define Underoath’s sound, which borrows from chasms across all hard-music genres), they’re quickly learning they have to make some sacrifices.
“On this tour we have a lot of [older] stuff in our set because we’re going to places where people haven’t seen us before,” guitarist James Smith says, referring to their five-week world tour.
“But next time we come through [North America] we’re playing nothing but new stuff.”
In fact, Brandell rushed out to the Virgin Records in Times Square at midnight to buy the album with Chamberlain and Chris Dudley (keyboards)—the first time he’s bothered to buy his band’s album. And this wasn’t the only first for the band.
Previous recording sessions came after arduous tours when the band became sick of playing the same tunes over and over, forcing them to the studio to save their sanity.
But not this time around.
Now, it seems they’ve found their sound. “We knew we liked what we did with Define. I think that core is still there from Define, but we definitely went outside the box on this new record,” Smith says. Musically that meant everything from playing live on the studio floor so that unique atmosphere could seep into the recording, to singing into microphones down a hallway to capture a haunting feeling of despair. Each choice led the band down an unknown passageway, until the final result ended in their most ambitious and darkest album to date.
“We just write what we write,” Brandell says, explaining the album’s mood. “Everyone tries to do what’s best for the songs, and it just came out as a heavier record with a darker feel. We actually had a lot of vocals that got cut for the songs’ sake—to make the songs better.”
Lyrically, Chamberlain (the primary lyricist on this album) matches the mood and aggression his bandmates created. He delves deep into his past demons, revealing a diary of brutally honest, Psalm-like emotions. “Vocally I think [the album is very personal] for Spencer,” Smith says. “He’s lived through a lot, and he’s always writing. He likes to be real honest and open about everything in his life, so it just comes through naturally for him in his writing.” Chamberlain’s bout with substance abuse and internal struggles takes center stage, and you can hear him crying out when he screams, “Oh God! It’s racing through my veins” on the opening track, as well as his earnest response to hindsight’s clarity when he proclaims, “How can I still be alive? I should’ve been gone so long ago” on the aptly titled “Anyone Can Dig a Hole But It Takes a Real Man to Call It Home.”
However, it would be misleading to derive Lost in the Sound’s overarching message from optics’ unfaithful glance. After almost breaking up in 2006, the sextet has a newfound hope, which they explain is the central theme of the album.
“I think the record really revolves around hope,” Brandell says. “From the first track, titled ‘Breathing in a New Mentality,’ to the last lyric being ‘I found God; I found hope.’” I think that goes with Spencer, too. After the last record he went through a lot of stuff with our band, and personal stuff that weighed him down and tested him a lot. Now he’s on a new page.”
So instead of writing Underoath’s epitaph, they’re circling the world, playing a record of hope that will surely separate them from the redundancy of hard music. Oh, how the plot has thickened indeed.