You can’t talk about metalcore without Underøath. You also can’t talk about Christian metal without Underøath. For over 20 years this band has forged a path for musicians to make honest music and for Christians to enjoy what’s good about music. We all admired this band for their boldness when it worked in our favor, now the tables have turned.
Anyone that knows me knows how dedicated I am to this band. I have a full set of their lyrics tattooed on my arm, and I’ve fashioned a subtle tribute to them in the spelling of my name – Naø. So when they decided to disband 2013, obviously I was crushed. But I wasn’t crushed because the Christian music industry was losing a band; I was crushed because the world was losing excellent musicians (not that they didn't make music outside of UØ).
I met Spencer Chamberlain while he was touring with Sleepwave, and though I don’t know him personally, I know his music like the back of my hand. At least a part of him was broken by the weight of Christians, and my heart broke for that. So when Underøath came back and decided they were no longer going to identify as a Christian band, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Good for them.”
Revolver Magazine recently released an article on ‘How Losing Religion Saved Underoath,’ and it’s gotten quite the response. And while Christian music fans all over the world are kicking and screaming about their decision, I have to ask…
Are we even listening?
“It was so much pressure and everything you did — no pun intended — you were crucified for. You couldn't do anything without someone being angry. People don't realize how much that weighs on you. My drug problem was very public and all of the Christian community hated me. I was struggling and all I was getting was hate, like, all I'm having is people tell me how shitty I am all the time.” –Spencer Chamberlain, Revolver Magazine
While we throw a fit about the way we think these people should be using their art, why are we not more concerned with the fact that a person we are so bent on claiming as our own almost lost his life to the pressure? This has to stop.
We’re killing off beauty by policing it when it was meant to be our teacher. We’re killing artists with a co-dependent habit of standing on their shoulders to see the world that we should be seeking for ourselves. Good songwriters work from a place of authenticity, not propaganda. That means they need to be free to be humans that live in a secular world. They need to be free to see the world without us piling on to their shoulders. They need to be free to make art that is genuine; art that can breathe. This band was made to make music - together. One listen and that’s undeniable. They were not made to be preachers. They were not made to prop up the faith of an entire generation. That all happened by circumstance. And now, when they decide to take back their art and preserve their wellbeing, we turn our backs? This has to stop. Let them be artists. Let them be human. Let them be free.
In their single, "On My Teeth," Chamberlain begs the Christian community to "save yourself and no one else." Maybe that's offensive, and maybe it hurts. But no one seems to wonder why it hurts. Is it possibly because we put too much pressure on our favorite Christian artists to not fall, and when we get called out for it, it's uncomfortable? Just a thought...
To me, Underøath hasn’t been a “Christian band” for a while. That never stopped me from enjoying the world through their music. Underøath isn’t where I looked for the gospel, they’re where I looked to learn to scream and make music with passion, and to be honest. They're where I looked to find courage to be different and be assured that "different" does not equal "bad." That, too, serves a spiritual purpose if we’re willing to make our own decisions about the art. The Christian market took them in because their songs happened to be about the band’s relationship with faith. However, something the Christian music industry has a habit of doing is discovering something good like Underøath, and then robbing them of their art, and trading it for religious responsibility and a public image of spiritual perfection that their music can’t survive on. The beauty will die if we deprive it of freedom and an authentic human experience.
The beauty of Underøath has always been their honesty.
This isn’t about faith. This is about a band’s decision to stay alive, allow music to heal where religion can’t, and engage with creativity in an unlimited way, opening doors for discovery and a more holistic view of the truth. The beauty of music is its ability to show the truth without being stained by broken people. Chamberlain recently tweeted about the current condition of the band, to which he adds, "that certainly does NOT mean we are lost or in a worse spot than before." This should tell us that the label of their music is not the source of their faith, whatever it may be. And at some point, we have to trust that they are doing what needs to be done behind the scenes so that their art can still do its work on them.
Do I think their new music comes from the same place that their past albums did? Of course not. But that’s because they’re people, living within time, and times change. So often, music fans expect their favorite bands to press pause on their own personal journey so that we can still enjoy them in the way we once did, and we crucify them for exploring life in a new way. That’s incredibly damaging to the members of the band, and incredibly selfish of listeners. These are human beings. They are not machines that service our expectations of them. We have to approach music with grace. Every once in a while, we come across a song that intersects perfectly with our journey, and it does something supernatural in us. That’s a beautiful thing, but we can’t expect musicians to produce that experience for us with every new record. It’s naïve to think we can. What we should be expecting and encouraging is excellence and creativity. Those are goals that bands can strive toward realistically and goals that give life to both artists and fans. Underøath has always brought excellence to the table, and that's why they will always have my support. I can't wait for their new music, and I want to encourage their art because it's good art.
I don’t need Underøath like I used to, but I think that’s a good thing. This band has made an overwhelming impact on my life over and over again. I know I’m not the only one. So to those who are bothered by their decision, I challenge you to listen to their music with empathy. Let’s be their support for once, in exchange for all the support they’ve offered us through their art. These guys broke their backs to make sure we didn’t have to live without them. And I, for one, am thankful.