Tony Cummings reports on the controversy surrounding the new 'Erase, Me' album by UNDEROATH
In the decades-long history of Christian hard music/metal, followers have from time to time been bemused and disappointed by the phenomenon of bands "losing their faith". Down the years we have seen the sad spectacle of the vocalists of such bands as Vengeance Rising, Seventh Angel and As I Lay Dying stumble into sin before making declarations that they aren't Christians anymore. Now to this sad list one needs to add the name Underoath. As any follower of Christian metal will tell you, the band from Tampa, Florida, featuring the larynx-shredding vocals of Spencer Chamberlain and the clean vocals of Aaron Gillespie, were amongst the heaviest units ever to grace the Christian and mainstream charts. When they disbanded in 2013 there was wide dismay amongst hard music fans everywhere. When it was announced that they were releasing the comeback album 'Erase, Me', there was joyful expectation at Underoath's return.
'Erase, Me' has been favourably received by the media, Rock Sound calling it "their most vicious, potent record to date." But in Christian circles there has been widespread dismay at the statements made by lead singer Chamberlain.
Ever since Chamberlain joined the band in 2003, the vocalist has tried to articulate his perspective on the on-going Christian band debate. He told europunk.net in 2009, "[We are Christian but] in a different way we're not your average Christian band." He explained in the same interview that Christianity is the "backbone of our lives, especially in the way that we handle things but it's not so much the backbone of our lyrics. It's not like every song is a lesson from the Bible or something. It's just normal life struggles."
Clearly things have changed for the singer. He said in an interview in Rock Sound magazine, which tied in with the release of the 'Erase, Me' album, "The worst years of my life were when we were a Christian band; trying to be that and the way that people look at you and judge you. It's like the most opposite thing of what you could think it's supposed to be, in my opinion. And people have said, 'Well, you're the guys who made it safe for kids who weren't allowed to bring home music like that, how can you turn your back on that?' and I said, 'Well, that was my role 10 years ago, to bring this music and this heavy stuff into households that hadn't had it before because it wasn't Christian.' I bear the burden and that's what drove me to drug use and depression because it's so hard being ridiculed and judged every single day like, 'Can't say this, can't say that, don't let people see you do this, don't let people do that.' You're just trying to live and be the best version of you and it's never good enough. That's the easy decision for me, to be like, 'I don't believe in any of this. I don't want a part in it.' I'm not turning my back on it and I don't wish any ill towards anyone who calls themselves Christian or has religion in their life. I think it's great for some people. For me? It almost killed me and it was awful, it drove the band apart and made us hate each other."
For his own part, Aaron Gillespie, who has written many of the songs on 'Erase, Me' with Chamberlain, and who after leaving Underoath was to record some solo worship-orientated projects, spoke about the subject matter of the new album. "We really grabbed into two real themes on this record. One is loss; I was going through a divorce when we were writing the record and Spencer was dealing with getting off drugs at the time, so it was the loss of those two things and how we realised that those two things were very close thematically for both of us, so we were able to sit down and write all these songs together and it made sense. The second thing is a lot of struggles with where we came from, how we were brought up as kids and how we portrayed ourselves for a long time with a religious background, which we don't really subscribe to anymore. That's not to say certain people don't have beliefs, but we don't subscribe to being a religious band."
It remains to be seen whether Chamberlain's loss of faith will lose Underoath their undoubtedly large Christian following, or whether 'Erase, Me', described by Gillespie as "more honest than any Underoath record", will find an ever larger mainstream following now they have abandoned the religious labelling. We will see.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.