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Heavy on 'Sound'

Judging by its new album, Underoath's flirtation with melody is over. Volume and themes get turned up.

November 14, 2008|Scott Collins | Collins is a Times staff writer.

Spencer Chamberlain, vocalist for the metalcore sextet Underoath, found himself with a free day in Northern California earlier this week, so he and his bandmates made plans to hit a deserted spot outside Redding and blow off steam with go-karts.

"We're all going to race each other and try not to get killed before tomorrow's show, I guess," the 25-year-old singer said with a chuckle, his mellow speaking voice nothing like the guttural screams heard on the Grammy-nominated band's propulsive rock songs. "Going 55 mph in a little tiny go-kart, after 20-some days on tour, can end up being pretty dangerous."

But then Underoath, which plays tonight at the Ventura Theater and Saturday at Bren Events Center in Irvine, could never be accused of playing it safe. After a tumultuous 10-year history wracked by personnel changes -- drummer and "clean vocalist" Aaron Gillespie is the sole remaining original member -- the Florida-based band this fall has found a rapturous critical reception for its sixth album, "Lost in the Sound of Separation" (Solid State Records).

After flirting with a more melodic sound, especially on 2004's "They're Only Chasing Safety," "Lost" marks a return to heavier music and themes. The first single, "Desperate Times, Desperate Measures," is a hard-charging howl of a song, marked by insanely fast drumming, crunchy guitar riffs and disturbing lyrical refrains ("Let's hope this is short-lived and riddled with disease"). The track has gotten plenty of exposure thanks to its inclusion on the video game Madden NFL 09, which has sold more than 4 million units.

"Lost" is currently the top-rated album of 2008 on the review-aggregation site Metacritic; while that site's methodology has been the subject of considerable debate among fans, Underoath's score of 92 (out of 100) puts it two points above the runner-up, Bob Dylan's "Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8." The eclectic music site Soul-Audio.com, which reviews artists as disparate as Switchfoot and Faith Hill, dubbed the Underoath disc a masterpiece full of "mind-blowing music."

Chamberlain said the group paid more attention than in the past to making a cohesive record: "We tried to make it an album from start to finish. . . . The whole goal was to make something that flowed together all the way from front to back."

But just as Chamberlain downplayed Underoath's Christian-metal roots ("It's not really a big deal," he said of the members' oft-professed religious beliefs), he also dismissed any notion that the band meant to set off on a new creative direction.

"We're a heavy band. We always have been, we always will be," he said. But "every time we go into recording or writing, we kind of don't shoot for anything. Our mind-set is to make a better record than the previous record. . . . We're just trying to challenge ourselves and do things we know we couldn't have done before." (Underoath also has an offbeat sense of humor: To promote the new disc, the band encouraged young male fans, their target demographic, to stop shaving for a month and post the photographic results at septembeard.com).

The current lineup has been playing together long enough that the members have learned how to keep things together through a frenetic tour schedule. Chamberlain admits it hasn't been easy.

"We've lost a lot of crew members and people that worked for us on the road, for the same reasons that other bands do, because not everyone can handle being gone all the time," he said. "I haven't been home, since we recorded this record, more than five days at a time."

"Now we're all in our mid-20s," he continued. "We know how to handle each other. We know how to be there for each other, be friends for each other. We don't act like little kids anymore."

Well, except for those go-karts.

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scott.collins@latimes.com

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Underoath

Where: Ventura Theater, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura

When: 7 tonight

Price: $23

Contact: (805) 653-0721

Also

Where: UCI Bren Events Center, 901 Mesa Drive, Irvine

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Price: $22

Contact: (949) 824-5000

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