Very rarely does a monumental record find itself matched with the promise of commercial success. But the strength, intensity and explosive lure of “Define The Great Line” Underoath’s follow up to its over 350,000 selling 2004 breakthrough They’re Only Chasing Safety--is undeniable.
“We went into the studio wanting to make this record count,” says guitarist Tim McTague. “We wanted to make it life-changing for the people who heard it. We knew it had the potential to do well, but we weren’t basing our future on that. We feel we’ve written the best album that any of us will probably ever be a part of and above all else, we’re super proud of it.”
Crafted with the help of Atlanta-based producer/drummer Matt Goldman–who helped pour the rhythmic foundation–and Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz–who lent his experience to help capture the guitars and vocals and encouraged these Warped Tour veterans to use E-bows, reel bows and experiment with delays and effects pedals–the resulting “Define The Great Line” is a mind-blowing song-cycle that resets the notion of what hardcore, screamo or whatever you want to call it, can be.
“We didn’t want to take the normal approach, with just two guitar tracks, drum tracks, vocal tracks or whatever,” McTague explains. “We really made an effort to expand in our minds about what Underoath could do.” To which founding kitman Aaron Gillespie adds, “We couldn’t be happier. When I look back on the time we spent on this album, I don’t think we would have done anything different.”
If “A Moment Suspended In Time” is the most direct, heartfelt musical assault since At The Drive-In’s “One Armed Scissor”–replete with explosive drumming and the inexplicably delightful amalgam of mayhem and melody–the Florida-based sextet’s depth and ability is no doubt bolstered by its higher calling.
“I feel like I want people to know we’re a Christian band,” vocalist Spencer Chamberlain says of Unederoath’s collective devotion. “But at the same time I don’t like tacking God or the fact that we’re Christian onto something to sell more records. I don’t want just to be marketed as a Christian band because I think we go beyond that. Tags can be limiting.”
“For us it’s a fear of stereotype,” Gillespie explains. “Like, ‘You’re Christian, so you can’t be my friend.’ I mean, Jesus was at lunch with whores and hookers! Still, our Christianity defines who we are.”
And for Underoath–which also counts keyboardist Chris Dudley, bassist Grant Brandell and guitarist James Smith–there’s a purpose in the music, be it the cathartic, introspective “You’re Ever So Inviting” or the intoxicatingly forceful “In Regards To Myself.” The latter opens the album with equal parts conviction and commotion, and boasts Spencer’s bloodcurdling inquiry, “What are you so afraid of?” only to be countered by a stunning, turn-on-a-dime harmony.
“With this record I just wrote about myself and my life,” Chamberlain says proudly. “On They’re Only Chasing Safety, I wrote about scenarios because I had only recently joined the band and I was still adapting to the situation. This time there were no limitations and I’m writing about the stuff that I know and feel strongly about. And because I’m emotionally invested in it, I think it just feels right.” A listen to the deeply personal, “There Could Be Nothing After This,” an inventive, experimental blast of guitars and inner searching affirms this sentiment.
“Our last record was like, ten songs on a CD,” Tim says. “And you could go and listen to each song individually to decide what you like or you don’t. But this is the first time we composed an album. In the past it was just the ten or so songs we wrote in a garage and recorded and eventually some kids bought it. This time we knew we didn’t want to regurgitate anything. It had to be cohesive.”
If the stakes felt high after the group became Tooth & Nail’s best selling band, the men of Underoath kept their focus and avoided the stresses that have sabotaged so many follow up discs. “Pressure is only there if you buy into it,” Aaron says. “As long as we were going where we wanted to go and we were making it unique, that’s all that mattered.”
Or as Tim succinctly puts it, “We don’t need to pump out ten singles for an album. We’re not Fall Out Boy. Those bands are great for what they are but that’s not what we’re aspiring to be at all.”
“We wanted to provoke a lot of thought lyrically and musically,” McTague continues. “We didn’t want it to be a record that you put in and you’re instantly hooked because those records fall off. Catchy hooks seem cool for about a week, but then--when you’re sick of it, you realize there is no substance. You can throw the record away. We’d rather be a band like Refused, At The Drive-In or Glassjaw, where you listen to it and you like it but you don’t really get it immediately. But you keep listening to it and all the little pieces come into focus.”
As for clarity regarding the disc’s title, Spencer says, “I liked how broad it is. ‘Define The Great Line’ can be interpreted so many different ways. When we all started in our various bands we were a bunch of 18-year-old kids. Over the last two years I’ve watched us grow into the kind of men we’re going to be. To me it’s the way I feel. It’s the way God has called me to be. It’s just an imaginary line that I try to balance myself on to be the best person I can be. I’ve made tons of mistakes and I’m just an idiot kid sometimes and it may take me my entire life to be the person that I aspire to be, but that’s my goal: To be the best kind of dude I can be.”
And if it’s that spirit that sets Underoath’s fierce, foot-stomping metallic drive (see “Returning Empty Handed”) apart from its peers, perhaps McTague puts it best when he talks about the real rewards of being in one of the biggest genre- defining bands today. “For me, the kids that we meet at shows who come up to us and tell us, ‘I was going to kill myself and then I heard this song of yours that changed my life around spiritually.’ Or even the one who said, ‘I had no one to turn to when my parents divorced, but your record got me through it.’ That’s what it’s all about for me. That’s what makes us more than just some crappy rock band.”
Message received. “Define The Great Line” is indeed one of 2006’s defining musical moments.
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