For Underoath fans, 2010 started with a bombshell when the band’s sole remaining founding member Aaron Gillespie announced that he would be leaving to pursue his other project, The Almost. With his clean vocals being the most charismatic and recognisable part of the Underoath‘s machine, the future of the band seemed in doubt for many. But, if ‘Ø (Disambiguation)’ is proof of anything, it is that Gillespie‘s departure strengthened their resolve and was a minor hiccup in the journey of Underoath.
The album lies not in the all too familiar war of opposing egos that was evident before, with their two vocalists, but in the struggle that now sole vocalist Spencer Chamberlain has been waging: addiction. ‘In Division’ is an intense opener, signifying the style of the rest of the album. Close listeners will be able to spot the differences behind the kit quickly. Although the drumming throughout the album is not as signature as Gillespie‘s, Norma Jean‘s ex-member Daniel Davison holds his own, to say the least. Chamberlain also picked up the clean vocal parts throughout the album, which works well. His clean parts are intense, haunting, and memorable, as are the lyrics: “God / It’s caving in on me / I feel it watching / But no one seems to care anymore / Empty I think of a way out / ’cause when I breathe in there’s no relief”.
Ominous and immediate, ‘Ø (Disambiguation)’ is the most purposeful Underoath album to date. Whereas before they contrasted light and dark that made certain the listener left with their mind reeling from the duo vocal assault and the melodic choruses suddenly changing to heavy breakdowns, ‘Ø (Disambiguation)’ partly removes this technique from the fold, and dives face first into the abyss. As Spencer screams in anguish and brings himself out of the darkness with his clean vocals, it shows him descending further into a world of misery, and the rest of the band are more than willing to follow. This leads to a polished vehemence that seeps into every aspect of the record, making it easily their most visceral release.
The former self-control that albums like ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’ and ‘Lost In The Sound Of Separation’ thrived off of is long dead and gone. ‘Ø (Disambiguation)’ is dark, angry and one step away from throwing itself over the edge, and these are the things that make it such a powerful catharsis. It unmistakably shows that Underoath are still very much the same well-oiled machine that brought us ‘Define The Great Line’, when they firmly established themselves as the head of the pack.
Even though Gillespie has left, the band continue to produce well-crafted songs that are both furious and enlightening at the same time. ‘Ø (Disambiguation)’ is a listening experience from start to finish. There’s not a dull moment on the album. Starting with ‘In Division’ and ending with ‘In Completion’, the album is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, Underoath album to date. Its heavier style of playing, and less easily digested lyrics may lose some fans who relied strongly upon Gillespie for their Underoath fix, but the album should draw in more fans than it loses.
Whether or not it’s an experimental song such as ‘Paper Lung’, or a gritty song such as ‘Reversal’, the album never loses its fluidity. Underoath are moving on from the Gillespie-era effortlessly, and show that just because a fans’ favourite has left they’re not going to give up.
Written by Rhys Milsom