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Thrash and Burn

After years of change, Underoath get back to basics

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Perhaps you've already dismissed Underoath because they're Christian metalcore. You don't care for the sweet-and-sour vocals or the raging, unrepentant righteousness. You may have underestimated them because the Tampa sextet defies attempts to pin them to a board in a musical taxonomy. Whatever you might think, it's worth witnessing them for yourself, because their explosive stage show will reshape your opinion. The players writhe and shudder like a cadre of epileptics enduring seizures while attempting to destroy their instruments. Keyboardist Chris Dudley bangs his head so violently, you fear it will fly off his neck and into the front row.

"If I'm going to be onstage playing songs, I'm going to have as much fun as possible," says Dudley. "I'm of the mindset that if I'm not coming offstage completely demolished, I don't feel like I did my job."

Underoath clearly hail from the metalcore school: screeching vocals paired with melodic singing beneath a throbbing edifice of crashing guitars and dramatic loud/soft dynamics. But their music has evolved over the years. Early albums had more of a European black-metal sound that changed with the band's membership.

Formed in 1997 while the members were still in high school, Underoath's lineup remained in flux for the first three albums, with only drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie remaining from the founding group. Dudley joined prior to their second album, 2000's Cries of the Past, and guitarist Timothy McTague signed on for 2002's The Changing of Times, helping to herald a new direction. McTague transformed the band's stage energy, and the music began to change as well.

But the biggest change was the departure of singer Dallas Taylor, who was replaced with Spencer Chamberlain prior to the recording of their breakthrough fourth album, 2004's They're Only Chasing Safety. More polished and much poppier than their prior releases, with far more singing, Chasing Safety would go gold within a year, bolstered by Warped Tour appearances.

"That's the first record Spencer was on, so from an outsider's perspective it looks like [the band] dropped the old singer, and [the new singer] wanted it to not be as heavy, when in fact, it's complete the opposite," says Dudley. "Dallas wanted it to be super poppy, really just rock music. When I showed Spencer the Underoath demos we did with Dallas, he didn't like it at all. His favorite bands are Botch and Dillinger Escape Plan, so when he came into the mix, he actually kind of turned the wheel hard left, and was like, 'Look, I'm not going to be happy playing poppy rock music.'"

It took until 2006's Define the Great Line for this new vision to take force, as Chamberlain began to feel more comfortable in the band and returned to the harder singing style he'd had before joining Underoath. It dovetailed with a heavier, more cinematic sound. "By the time we got around to writing the next record, we hated They're Only Chasing Safety," he says. "With Define the Great Line, we started to see where we wanted to go."

With their first release with the same lineup as a previous album and their sound solidifying, Underoath followed Define with last year's Lost in the Sound of Separation, which is more a refinement than a departure.

"We're always going to be trying to do better and bigger things," says Dudley. "But I think that we're done with having completely different records from record to record."

music@clevescene.com

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