HQ: Newark, New Jersey
The Lowdown: Like fellow mascara-mad punks AFI, My Chemical Romance is a band of artsy outsiders suddenly thrust into the mainstream spotlight. Signed to the Thursday-affiliated label Eyeball after just three live shows in 2002, the quintet grew out of its Damned-aping phase by last year's major-label debut, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. It hits all the goth-punk sweet spots; even more surprising is that its B-movie vampire-film imagery and macabre messages have become an MTV staple -- thanks to the prep-school-revenge video for "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)."
Recommended Listening: "To the End," from Sweet Revenge
Band: Senses Fail
HQ: Bergen County, New Jersey
The Lowdown: They name-check Daoism, Hinduism, and Bukowski as influences with the same nonchalance that others reference Green Day or the Clash. But Senses Fail vocalist Buddy Nielsen -- who just recently became old enough to buy beer without a fake ID -- and the rest of his barely legal bandmates put a brainiac spin on post-hardcore screamo with Let It Enfold You, their hard-charging full-length debut for Vagrant Records after a brief stint on emo farm team Drive-Thru.
Recommended Listening: "Tie Her Down," from Enfold You
HQ: Tampa, Florida
The Lowdown: Underoath's lineup circa 2005 is drastically different from the one it started with in 1998 -- namely because vocalist and founder Dallas Taylor abruptly left in 2003. The move turned out to be serendipitous: They're Only Chasing Safety, the group's first album with new vocalist Spencer Chamberlain, sounds light years ahead of its previous work. Give credit not only to the expertise of onetime Dashboard Confessional producer James Wisner, but also to Underoath's improved ability to balance its synthesized underbelly with screaming assaults.
Recommended Listening: "Reinventing Your Exit," from Chasing Safety
Band: A Static Lullaby
HQ: Chino Hills, California
The Lowdown: Newly signed to Columbia, these OC boys are poised to take their screamo out of the suburbs and into the mainstream. Faso Latido, their forthcoming album due in April, softens the harsher edges of their debut, . . . And Don't Forget to Breathe, into an accessible -- even poppy -- amalgam of emo, punk, and straight-ahead rock.
Recommended Listening: "Stand Up," from Faso Latido, available at www.myspace.com/astaticlullaby
Band: Opiate for the Masses
HQ: Phoenix, Arizona
The Lowdown: Unplugged for the Chaos acoustic stage, these onetime Ministry tourmates are more hellfire than campfire. In fact, the quartet sounds like mall punk never happened, with vocalist Ron Underwood's uncanny Maynard James Keenan impressions, NIN-style electronic textures, and sludgy prog-metal inclinations.
Recommended Listening: "Drown," from the upcoming album The Spore, available at www.myspace.com/opm