About a minute into Underoath’s first song of the night, “Young and Aspiring,” guitarist and songwriter Timothy McTague takes a running leap from the New York club stage and lands atop a sea of upraised hands, where he writhes around for much of the number.
“The stage was really slippery and there was water everywhere, so I couldn’t move around up there very much,” he explained after the show. “I just decided I’d see what I could do from out in the crowd.”
The acrobatic move was vintage Underoath, a band whose members routinely scream, stomp and smash into things, exhibiting more aggression and energy than many athletes in extreme sporting events. But unlike most of their metalcore peers, Underoath’s sonic exorcisms aren’t driven by rage or darkness — they’re motivated by love.
See, McTague and his bandmates — singer Spencer Chamberlain, singer and drummer Aaron Gillespie, guitarist James Smith, keyboardist Christopher Dudley and bassist Grant Brandell — are devout Christians, and they aim to hammer their messages into their listeners’ heads with the same intensity exhibited in their crashing rhythms.
“The ideas we address in our songs and the overall spiritual foundation of our band are very real and powerful,” explained McTague. “There’s a lack of realness to a lot of the music in our scene. There’s a lack of emotion and actually feeling like God is alive and love is alive. There’s a huge battle every day between doing the right thing and the wrong thing, and our job is to get it out there in a way where kids can feel something inside and not just go, ‘Yeah, that was a cool show I saw last night, now I’m going to go back to being myself.’ We want kids to think and take something away from it.”
The plan seems to be working. Underoath’s 2004 album, They’re Only Chasing Safety, sold more than 218,000 copies before their label reissued it on October 7 with a new track, three previously unreleased demos and a full-length DVD. Since then, the disc, a noisy, galvanic showcase of pummeling beats, barbed riffs, howled verses and sung choruses, has sold an additional 279,000 copies and continues to sell about 4,500 additional units per week.
Some Christian rockers let their words speak for themselves. Underoath also want their actions to reflect their faith. Recently the bandmembers hooked up with the organization Habitat for Humanity to help build houses for the needy. McTague and his bandmates started contributing to charitable causes last year after befriending three guys from Southern California who shot a 60-minute documentary called “Invisible Children” in Northern Uganda. The film is about a terror group called the Lord’s Resistance Army that is responsible for kidnapping, indoctrinating and/or raping 20,000 children over the past 19 years. Viewing it inspired Underoath.
“These underground militias steal children when they’re sleeping, take them to these camps in the woods and train them to be child soldiers and to kill people. If they won’t do it then they get killed instantly,” McTague said. “We’re getting a lot more involved in things like that now because people need to be aware in order to prevent this kind of stuff from happening in the future.”
Clearly, Underoath view themselves as messengers of the Lord, but that doesn’t prevent them from having a bit of devilish fun from time to time. During a Halloween show in New Jersey, for instance, the band took the stage dressed like Slipknot and opened the show with the masked marvels’ “Duality.”
“Our manager called their management, and they sent us some masks and said all they wanted was some pictures,” McTague recalled. “We all had jumpsuits with their numbers spray-painted on them. It was funny as crap. Both of our singers love Slipknot. There’s a lot of respect there, for sure.”
That’s a strange revelation considering Slipknot’s catalog is filled with tales of serial killers, followers of black magic and other evildoers. Underoath, however, draw a distinction between wicked people and wicked imagery. “I feel like there are two ways to be satanic,” he explained. “You have bands like Atreyu, who are dark and twisted and have pentagrams and say they believe in vampires and all this evil stuff. But at the end of the day, those guys are just doing theater. We’ve toured with them several times, and there’s no strife there.
“I feel bands like them and Slipknot don’t truly believe in what they’re talking about,” he continued. “People who are truly satanic are different, and when they step into a church everything goes weird. But if I started talking to you five minutes ago and I thought you were just a dude, and now you tell me you’re a satanic dude, I’m not going to think of you any differently. I love everyone for what they do, and if someone wants to have an adult conversation about doctrinal beliefs or spiritual warfare, that’s fine. We’ll talk to anybody.”
Maybe so, but anybody who wants to get in line for a conversation better do so fast. On Tuesday, Underoath will enter the studio again with Matt Goldman, who will co-produce with Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz. Currently, the band has 19 songs written and plans to fine-tune 10 or 11 for the album. McTague said some tracks will be similar to those on They’re Only Chasing Safety, and others will display musical growth.
“Some of it is much heavier and more thought-out,” he said. “The songs are slower, with gradual builds, instead of being really quick. It’s still Underoath, it’s just more aggressive and punchier. And there are two instrumental tracks on there that are really gonna demonstrate what we can do.”
As for the lyrics, expect more pained, passionate words that, on first listen, don’t even sound like they’re coming from a Sunday-morning sermon. Of course, closer examination will reveal the band’s higher goals. “We just want to encourage people to live clean, clear lifestyles and more loving and uplifting lifestyles,” McTague said. “Hopefully God will continue to use us to shine his light in a dark place.”