Reviewing the new Underoath album here is like trying to offer delectable French cuisine to an overly patriotic American. Before the food even hits their mouth, the American will dismiss it for its native derivation, when in fact they may very well enjoy said food. Trying to convince the "punx" a Christian metalcore band whose last record sold several hundred thousand have put out a solid followup -- yeah, "futile" comes to mind.
Thing is, that's the case. Many have and will describe the Florida act's new, heavier direction as one that "returns [them] to their roots," those roots purportedly the band's dark metalcore of 2002's The Changing of Times and/or the death metal leanings of their first two releases, Act of Depression and Cries of the Past. Okay, so the band is heavier -- that's about the only relation to these mostly unassuming, overly preachy releases. The type of heaviness exhibited on Define the Great Line is more one that makes it an awful lot easier to place them in the same post-Botch territory already occupied by so many of their now closer peers (labelmates Norma Jean and the Chariot, as well as Fear Before the March of Flames and Scarlet come to mind).
Surprisingly though, Underoath is the most ambitious of the bunch.
They did the sing/scream formula well on 2004's They're Only Chasing Safety, at least in this reviewer's opinion. Sure, their melodies seemed awfully reminscent of Taking Back Sunday, but something about it transcended the band above that. And while Define can certainly seem similar to the abovementioned group of bands wearing their Botch influence so blatantly on their sleeves, it has enough of Underoath's own elements to make it a little more unique. The singing is more sporadic than on Safety, thus providing a nice dynamic as opposed to a chorus -- not a single track on Define seems like the obvious choice for "screamo-pop single no. 1." "You're Ever So Inviting" has a chorus ("we turn the pages left to right!") sung in a slightly unsettling, radio rock bellow, and thus it could probably succeed well on alternative radio if anything, but it's hardly a bad song.
That ambition leads to one sensible comparison in one song and one shocking comparison in another. Anyone who enjoyed Beloved's only full-length, 2003's Failure On, should like "Moving for the Sake of Motion" a lot -- it's probably Define's most paced, urgent offering, the verse riffs providing the anchor and the band employing the sing/scream juxto quite on point; the first single "Writing on the Walls" definitely hints at the defunct band's influence as well. Additionally, the band is apparently very capable of writing decent post-rock/metal in the vein of Pelican, as the first 3 minutes of "Casting Such a Thin Shadow" will attest to with its pounding riffs, slightly spacey settings and nice build throughout, climaxing in a slight variety of screamed/growled vocals finishing it off nicely.
Granted, Christianity should bother a self-professed agnostic an awful lot when said agnostic has watched with disgust the religious takeover of the nation in the last several years on those grounds, but in recent interviews the band has made clear their severance from the groups of Bible-thumping Christians spewing disgustingly prejudiced "God hates fags!" sloganeering and further acts of "living recommendation." The lyrical content of Define certainly doesn't seem to go back on that at all, as it does seem more the band sings about their faith in vague ways. There's mentions of The Big Guy, sure, but they seem random and compulsive, like the shouts of Sunday church-goers in any excited house of God in the South. One particular weird moment is "Salamarnir," a Bible passage as read in Russian by a friend of the band, but to say the band bashes the listener over the head with mentions of their faith on the album would be more than slightly wrong.
Define the Great Line has already sold an awful lot of copies from a band who is not only rather heavy in the context of mainstream music, but actually sounds sincere in what they're doing. And while I'm likely to never join the ranks of those living their lives every day for a certain martyr, I'm hardly going to mind when a few of them want to write solid and ambitious, Botch-influenced metalcore albums vaguely showcasing the faith involved in those lives.
In Regards to Myself
You're Ever So Inviting
Writing on the Walls