Today, July 19th, is the 200th day of the year 2013.
This year, amongst other things (like eating a literal boatload of pudding), I have:
-Interned for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, watching the team dominate the first 10 games and then go belly-up in the final year of a weak division (RIP Southeast).
-Had nearly $3500 of my personal property stolen while on a commercial shoot in downtown Miami, an experience I wrote about that day (and also the next) from my phone. Having made it through life largely unscathed, I can say with confidence it ranks in the top 3 of worst days I’ve ever lived.
-Completed my final semester of college and graduated from the University of South Florida. Yay.
-Made an NCAA March Madness-style tournament for 68 songs from the band Cursive , and I’m still trying to figure out what purpose it serves, but don’t worry about it.
And yeah, written 199 posts that range somewhere in between “retro review,” “band primer” and “total inanity.”
Thanks for sticking with this project thus far. I’m excited for the 165 remaining days, if only for the fact that some of my favorite albums remain. And also, CHRISTMAS SPECIALTACULAR IMPACT WEEK (OF JUSTICE) 20-THIRTEEN. Working title.
So I’m glad that today’s record is Underoath’s best: Define the Great Line. Makes for a fun time.
As someone who’s never been a part of (and might not ever be a part of) something that has sold more than half a million copies to date, and praised as one of the greatest albums to ever grace the genre, I can’t imagine the amount of pressure the band must have felt in trying to write the follow-up to They’re Only Chasing Safety.
That album, for all intents and purposes (and in spite of my general malcontent with the label “Christian” being attached to a musical sub-genre), destroyed all previous perceptions and misconceptions about the genre.
So where Safety laid the groundwork for all future releases for “Christian” heavy music of all types, Define the Great Line forged a path for the genre to the mainstream. It opened doors for bands like August Burns Red and The Devil Wears Prada to enjoy relative mainstream success, and facilitated Aaron Gillespie’s solo career and radio success with The Almost.
DTGL, the band’s 5th album, is a pretty big deviation from its predecessor. Released in 2006, two years after Safety, expectations for the album were nothing short of lofty. And while I’ve written that high expectations can lead to grand disappointment, Define crushes.
I tend to vacillate between this and Lost in the Sound of Separation for the group’s best, but in listening to both albums today, Define is such a complete and progressive album, it’s hard to argue in favor of LITSOS.
Produced by the incomparable Matt Goldman and Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz, Define slays right out of the gate, opening with “In Regards to Myself.” In a foreshadowing ode to the album’s narrative and lyrical themes, the sound of an old school film projector tells listeners that they’re about to watch a dude spill his guts for 45 minutes about drug and alcohol abuse and the deep pains associated with both.
Where Safety relied on poppy melodies and frequent back-and-forth collaboration between vocalists Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie, Define largely steers away from this approach. This technique allows Chamberlain’s alternating shrill and guttural vocals to take center stage, which makes for a decidedly heavier and dark experience.
With the exception of the creepy interlude “Salmarnir,” a reading of the first 6 verses of Psalm 50 in Russian, every song from Define could have been a single. That, to me, is a sign of a band at the top of their game: sheering off the fat and making for a fit, punchy experience.
It’s an album meant to be experienced as a collection, rather than picking out individual songs, but here’s some thoughts on them anyway:
-How “Returning Empty Handed” doesn’t close this record is beyond me. It feels like it should be the end.
-“Casting Such a Thin Shadow” is so calculated, the best paced song of the whole album.
-3 minutes into closer “To Whom It May Concern” is one of the band’s best “shut up” moments. Unexpected for sure.
-The final 30 seconds of “Writing on the Walls” may be this version of the band’s heaviest moments (as in, when Aaron was still drummer).
Define is, in my mind, Underoath’s best work. Each subsequent listen proves itself time and time again.
This is the album at its most vicious, “Everyone Looks So Good From Here” –
Standout tracks: “In Regards to Myself” and “Moving for the Sake of Motion” – and of course, can’t deny “Writing on the Walls.”
Weakest track: While I understand the point of “Salmarnir” is to add to the mood and atmosphere of DTGL, it’s just filler.
RIYL: Normal Jeans, Advent, gritting your teeth.