Words by Dave Cheney
It’s not often a new metal record comes along, ties you down, and proceeds to slap you silly with unrelenting force, focus, and gusto for banger after banger. But if anyone was to achieve this feat of feats, it would be Underoath. The Florida natives are 7 albums deep with their latest release, ‘Voyeurist’, but there isn’t an ounce of rust on the cogs of this finely tuned monster. ‘Voyeurist’ sees the band taking complete control of the recording process, a choice that always carries the risk of creative tensions and “inconsistent” outcomes (go plug Metallica’s ‘St. Anger’ into your Spotify playlist for reference), but by the power of all that is good and holy, the band nails it. This is a record of contrast and contradiction. Well-trodden terrain in metal-world is revitalised with a thoughtful and masterful approach to production, contrasting every vicious guitar-driven onslaught with eerie, unsettling orchestral production and perfectly timing electronic breaks. Making this feat even more impressive is how the band never muddies their boots in self-indulgent territory. No, this here is a masterclass of restraint that will serve as a fine blueprint for up-and-coming acts. Now, let’s get our knives and forks at the ready and dive into this buffet, shall we?
The album wastes no time melting faces, kicking off with the arresting and explosive Damn Excuses. The track utilises a clever inversion of the classic metalcore ‘filtered intro’, sounding more Hans Zimmer than dated mid-2000s cliché. This cinematic approach to sound peppers the record and I love how subtly it is foreshadowed for repeat listens. The track dives in and out of the filtered depths like a kamikaze dolphin, reflecting the cyclic lyrical narrative provided by vocalist Spencer Chamberlain. “You never gave me anything I wanted but I’m stuck in the cycle with you” he laments, clearly laying out this record will be no picnic in the sun. Enormous props must be given to the mixing engineer here. The band has never sounded better.
The pace picks up at the album’s second track, Hallelujah. It’s just as cold and broken as it’s Leonard Cohen counterpart as our protagonist grapples with a loss of faith and decent into apathy. Galloping drums provided by Aaron Gillespie mesh tightly with the group’s sonic string onslaught.
I’m Pretty Sure I’m Out of Luck and Have No Friends offers a breather amidst the album’s early chaos. A faux-phone conversation reminiscent of the film samples that littered early-2000’s metalcore melts into the siren swells of atmospheric string orchestration, intoxicating piano phrases, and the hypnotic syncopated post-metal bass riffing of Grant Brandell. This cinematic contrast and unconventional song structure ‘Voyeurist’ so alive and exciting. There’s no premature load blowing here. The track detonates precisely when it means to with devastating results.
Cycle is more lyrically dense than its predecessors, with partial thanks to its surprise guest appearance from everybody’s favourite black metal trap-rapping antichrist, Ghostemane. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Dear god, why? But put those torches and pitchforks away. His high pitch pitter-patter cadence threads perfectly into the fabric of the song, proving particularly impactful when drenched in some distortion. Hearing Ghosty and Chamberlain go toe-to-toe and lock horns is a bit of a thrill and is more ‘fuck yeah!’ than it is ‘cornball’. The music grinds on wonderfully underneath them before grinding to a halt as distorted vocals croak out “reset the cycle”, like a snake eating its own tail.
Thorn proves that Underoath trust their audience can handle some curveballs. Small, digital production breaks pepper the track, adding beautiful desperation and sweetness among the chaos. Autotune segments are embraced rather than disguised, which I appreciate. It’s ironic that pitch correction is liberally used across various hard rock and metal projects to fix things up but as soon as it becomes a defining feature of modern hip hop, we gun it down? Fuck that. Lean into it and make it your own. Panned filtered breakbeats do well to modernise the song (was that an adlib ‘Whoop’ I doth hear before me?) It’s like the track is constantly elevating towards the heavens before having a pair of semi-trailers strapped to its ankles and plummeting back down to hell.
The album reaches its midpoint with (No Oasis). Another serene ‘calm before the storm’ moment. The strange, clashing chord progressions, jarring tonality, and ascending clicking samples convey a deep, modern, gut-wrenching loneliness. Like the Mars Rover losing its batteries and slowly dying half a billion miles from home. That hurts, man. This is further explored with Lynchian creaking door samples and maniacal laughter. I love when heavy acts throw these sweet treats in to compliment the album flow. Moor by fellow metalcore heavyweights Every Time I Die is an all-time favourite of mine and I think we need to appreciate that it takes a certain number of stones for heavy bands to commit to moments like these, let alone the skills and finesse to pull them off.
The album’s latter songs provide a satisfying continuation and conclusion to our journey. A building transition off hairy synth percussion from (No Oasis) launches into more grinding crunching riffs and pounding drums of Take a Breath, one of the most breakdown-heavy offerings so far that sees ambient sirens screeching above the chaos below.
Tracks like We’re All Gonna Die and Numb are no nonsense, break-your-face-in type bangers that carry the hopeless, introspective, and godless tone of the album with lines such as “We’re all gonna die, what difference does it make?” Numb also features a mean-as-fuck vocal filter soaring over the lead hook that begs you offer it a solid stank face in appreciation. The band weaves and winds through some of the most intricate melodic progressions the album has to offer, pairing delicious clean vocals against the low filtered vocal hook that really makes you appreciate how clever the boys are on this project.
The album’s closer, Pneumonia, is a 7-minute monster that showcases the culmination of the album’s strongest elements. Beautiful melodies, moody pianos, serene orchestration, a Blade Runner-esque atmosphere, and oppressive volume delivered at the precise right time. I’m particularly fond of the panning synth drones towards the track’s finale that foreshadow the final, crushing death march to come.
Overall, Underoath have pulled a wonderfully ominous rabbit out of a well-worn hat. ‘Voyeurist’ is a masterclass of contrast. Light and dark. Tender and violent. Harsh but sweet. Immediate yet ominous. The album rarely sacrifices it’s more human elements for the sake of meeting the status quo or trying to ‘out-heavy’ it’s competitors. Underoath’s willingness to take a risk and walk across thin branches to more fragile moments invigorate and reenforce every crushing blow this album lands, and it hits the chin with frightening accuracy. Now we just must cross our fingers that COVID restrictions will let the band touch down on Australian soil to tour this monster down under.
‘Voyeurist’ is out this Friday (January 14) via Fearless Records
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With thanks to Dallas Does PR