Underoath have been around for a while now, this being their ninth studio album and, from what I understand, they've moved gradually away from the metalcore they started out playing at the tail end of the previous millennium towards a very different post-hardcore sound. I'm not a particular fan of metalcore but I'm listening to a lot of post-hardcore and finding the genre as fascinating as it is elusive. I'm still figuring out how to define it and not getting very far.
I'm getting far enough to know that this album opens up as metalcore, with Damn Excuses, gets a lot more catchy with Hallelujah and then shifts completely into post-hardcore with I'm Pretty Sure I'm Out of Luck and Have No Friends. These aren't long songs, only ten minutes having passed with three song over, but the difference between the first and third is massive. Certainly, the variety is what makes the album interesting to me. Forty minutes of Damn Excuses would have bored me. In a two and a half minute chunk, it's one welcome texture of many.
While Damn Excuses is straight metalcore and I'm Pretty Sure is straight post-hardcore, the most interesting songs are ones that mix those approaches. Thorn is a real highlight for me, because it moves back and forth between those two seemingly incompatible approaches. It starts out like it wants to be post-hardcore, quickly erupts into metalcore and then backs off considerably in order to find something far more unique. By halfway, I was caught up in the quirky beat and electronica. Sure, there's some screaming going on at points, but it works as contrast.
Take a Breath is another highlight. It manages to be urgent and driving without turning up those screams, which I appreciated. I like the dynamic play that mixes the quieter moments and heavier ones to create something far more interesting than either. Even a frequently metalcore song like Numb benefits from that to a degree and more ambitious songs like Thorn and Pneumonia thrive on it, even if the latter takes its time, given that it has over seven minutes to develop, or double a majority of the other songs here. It's certainly ambitious and its second half is wild.
While my taste tells me that I don't want to review trendy American bands, my mission statement tells me that I should keep my mind open and try them out. Sometimes that backfires and I cringe my way through part of an album before giving up in horror. Sometimes an album shocks the heck out of me because it really wasn't what I expected at all. And sometimes, like here, I join in at the point where a band has achieved an enviable level of success but refuses to just churn out more of the same. They continue to evolve and in a direction that I appreciate.
So, while it's very possible that I wouldn't enjoy early Underoath much at all, I got a lot more than I expected out of this ninth album and I'm likely to enjoy them more and more with each release. I do see that they're not massively prolific, this being only their second album since 2010, though it seems that they split up for a couple of years during that period. All power to them and I'll happily check out another album in a few years time to see how far their evolution has progressed by that point.