Sometimes a Christian band finds itself lost, or in the case of UNDEROATH 2018, it just lost Christ. If you're old enough, remember when STRYPER ditched the yellow and black spandex and strapped full-on leather and chin gristle for 1990's ill-fated album "Against the Law"? Some figured it a gambit, others a momentary pact with the same devil the band had lyrically banished in 1986. Either way, STRYPER's drastic, and desperate, step toward the dark side was a flop. UNDEROATH is a different beast of a different generation, of course. It has a tougher, far more loyal crowd to appease. One that waited eight long years for new liturgi-core, and instead gets this: "Erase Me" an album from a faith-based band stripped of its faith.
UNDEROATH's devout are, no doubt, thumbing over a set of rosary beads in confusion by the band's departure from its pulpit, first left figuratively in hiatus, and now abandoned in whole. They'll be pleased drummer Aaron Gillespie is back after an eight-year exile, but the sight of a bashed-in and tarnished concrete angel on "Erase Me" will be disconcerting to some as UNDEROATH pledges secularity instead of theology. The group's stances in homecoming include a questioning of the precepts of morality and an all-in stand against social exclusionism.
UNDEROATH takes to heart, and likely they'll break some in transition, the title of the opening number, "It Has to Start Somewhere". Spencer Chamberlain alarmingly screams at God in despair. UNDEROATH bedecks its torrid confrontation with calming electronics from Christopher Dudley, who, on this album, inherits far more audio space than ever. Upon hitting the song's apex, Chamberlain's anger hits full force, this being where longtime UNDEROATH fans will find their happy spot.
Not that testing the band's core sound with the beat-box drives and drippy keys slithering throughout "Rapture" will deter the flock. Most fans have stuck by UNDEROATH as the group has progressed, and, for the most part, matured its attack plan. "Rapture" is a logical step forward for a band that was, no doubt, pondering where to go eight-years ago and coming up with this radical shakeup—inclusive of a pulsing electro throb that sets up the harried rage of "On My Teeth". Aaron Gillespie, always an impressive second vocalist, drops snare ballistics all over this track. He thumps the hell out of the mosh rhythms on "Hold Your Breath", at times the heaviest song on the album. However, full honors go to the rambunctious "In Motion".
The true challenge to all listeners comes with "Wake Me"'s out-of-nowhere proto pop. For longtimers, this may ring of spots on "They're Only Chasing Safety", yet it's as far left of "Act of Depression" as any band can get: much less the five track, 42-minute wander of "Cries of the Past". The ten-song "Erase Me", by comparison, clocks in at 40:10.
Helmed by PANIC! AT THE DISCO producer, Matt Squire, the songs on "Erase Me" are efficient, lean and more accessible, particularly the toothy, electro-wheezed ballad, "Bloodlust". Even a song yielding a jam-packed punk drive like "Sink With You" is subject to next-gen electro revisionism. On "Sink With You", there's a pleasing rile-up to what UNDEROATH began tapping into with "Define the Great Line". Yet, all this change isn't always to the band's benefit: "ihateit" is alarmingly reminiscent of LINKIN PARK and this is an unnecessary breach of this band's boundaries.
"Erase Me" is an interesting listen, but eight years of separation from the scene means an entire generation has grown older and, in some cases, away from this music. Even more interesting will be to find out how many of those holding out for this moment will either judge "Erase Me" to be a rational forward step or utter betrayal.