Comeback albums can be a dubious affair. Their momentous release can often lead to unfair expectations being leveled against them, and they also see bands tasked with the difficult balancing act of recapturing what made people excited about them in the first pace and proving their relevance beyond their bygone era. The most successful examples are those which strike this balance just right—being readily identifiable with what came before but also proving that the band themselves have evolved during their intermission, while also suggesting that there’s further room for growth as well. Unfortunately, Erase Me—Underoath‘s first album in eight years—is an exceedingly unsuccessful outing, no matter which way you look at it.
The post-hardcore/metalcore pioneers were one of the greatest bands of their ilk, and their four-album run from 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety to 2010’s Ø (Disambiguation) remains virtually untouchable. Of further note is the fact that none of those releases, while they all containing a definite through-line, sounded particularly similar to one another either. Over the course of those four records the Tampa sextet transformed from being a fairly traditional emotionally-charged post-hardcore outfit to an act more readily defined by their post-rock and mathcore elements—all the while embodying everything that was great about their different given direction(s). Erase Me constitutes yet another change of direction in Underoath’s history. Yet this time it feels more like a sudden departure than a gradual evolution and, in embracing this new direction the band leave behind a lot of what they’ve built up beforehand.
Lead single “On My Teeth” announces the return of founding drummer and clean vocalist Aaron Gillespie’s presence effectively enough, if a little ham-fistedly. However, that all anyone seems to be talking about in its wake is the fact that Spencer Chaberlain actually swears in its opening verse perhaps has more to do with that being about the most remarkable thing about the song rather than any genuine shock value. This state of affairs only makes it all the more regrettable that “On My Teeth” might just be the best song on the album. It’s certainly its most traditional. Yet its relative strength lays not so much in its welcome familiarity so much as the weakness of its surrounds. The other contender is perhaps “Bloodlust”, whose Deftones-aping false ending provides one of Erase Me‘s few moments of true exhilaration. Beyond that, “It Has To Start Somewhere” is an exciting enough intro, especially given what comes after, and the crooning “ihateit” is decent enough for what it is. However, each of these numbers would have been lucky to come off as pleasant filler on the band’s previous records, let alone constitute an album highlight.
That the record was produced by Matt Squire—known for his work with the likes of Panic! At The Disco, 3OH!3 and All Time Low—clearly shows that the band were going for a different direction with this release, and it shows. There are effectively no guitars on this record. While I assume guitarists Tim McTague and James Smith were present for their required parts of the album’s recording and, if you look hard enough, their sound files are actually there, they may as well not have been. There are about three or so moments in Erase Me‘s entirety that you could call an actual riff, with the rest of the record given over to low-end chord progressions and electronic melodies, which bassist Grant Brandell and keyboardist Chris Dudley handle just fine. McTague and Smith’s participation really is superfluous, although their few discernible contributions certainly constitute some of the album’s more exciting moments—if only by comparison. Likewise, Chamberlain’s vocals far more readily recall his work with Sleepwave than the frantic screams and soulful crooning he became known for with Underoath.
The simple idea of a band changing their sound or trying out new things is not be sneered at, but the results here are far from convincing. The whole affair feels tailor made to appeal to the fan bases of prominent modern acts such as Bring me The Horizon or You Me At Six, but without even the little bit of bite that those bands still retain. It also feels incredibly disconnected from what came before. It would be unfair to expect Underoath to pick up exactly where they left off but, given that those previous records are the only reason why anyone cares about Erase Me to begin with, a bit more of an acknowledgment would have been appreciated. Hopefully this is just something they needed to get out of their system and future offerings will prove more fruitful should they stick around.
Erase Me is out April 6, via Fearless Records. You can pre-order it here.