Listening to They’re Only Chasing Safety by Christian metalcore band Underoath is like reading my teenage self’s favorite Clive Cussler novel. It will always be a classic of my middle/high school days, but upon checking it out almost a decade later, I can’t believe how many issues it has that I didn’t pick up when I was younger.
Underoath was (and is, if the rumors of their demise are, indeed, greatly exaggerated) a classic of the early 2000s metalcore movement, whereby melodic death metal riffs (often influenced by At the Gates et al.) are fused with 90s hardcore punk attitude and song structures (such as breakdowns) – something that critics occasionally call a part of the “new wave of American heavy metal.”1 They’re Only Chasing Safety is the band’s fourth overall full-length and their first recording with harsh vocalist Stephen Chamberlain after Dallas Taylor left for various personal and artistic reasons.2 Underoath’s first two albums – Act of Depression and Cries of the Past – utilized black metal influences to espouse Christian themes;3 their third album The Changing of Times featured the standard metalcore tropes that would inform the rest of the band’s career. They’re Only Chasing Safety made use of electronic effects that complemented the harsh guitars in the way Chamberlain’s screaming effectively juxtaposed drummer Aaron Gillespie’s clean singing, as seen on opening track “Young and Inspiring.”
The merits of 2000s metalcore are not worth discussing: it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of genre, although its appeal is mostly limited to those who grew up with these kinds of bands. If you’ve ever heard 2000s metalcore before, then you know exactly what to expect here. Underoath arguably does this better than any other band of the time – tracks such as “Down, Set, Go” and “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door” have sweeping clean sections that are outright beautiful, and “I Don’t Feel Very Receptive today” has a frenetic bridge that gets vaguely mathcore (and is a good song about fighting depression). Chamberlain’s voice is, again, hit-or-miss: it’s either a furious example of tortured-soul singing, or a tinny nightmare. Oh, and lots of “me” pronounced as “meh.”
No, the issue with They’re Only Chasing Safety is the subject matter, and I am vaguely appalled upon listening to this as an adult.
Underoath is, first and foremost, a Christian band. And that’s okay! One of Underoath’s strengths is that they don’t beat their listeners over their head with their beliefs. In fact, if I hadn’t been told otherwise when I was younger, I would have never known the difference.4 It’s a sharp contrast to the god-awful Christian rock over the radio in my southern hometown, which was full of the exact same asinine “God is good / Rejoice in Him” blather that every other band was making.5 In the perspective of utilizing non-traditional Christian music to further Christian themes, Underoath did well, especially in their late career by making relatable and positive statements to which one could relate regardless of faith.
But with They’re Only Chasing Safety, the band hadn’t yet hit that mark. The album contains several tracks of extremely problematic subject matter.
“I will now bring new meaning to the word alone” is one of the most powerful lyrics in extreme music. It gives me chills every time. The line is from the track “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door,”6 a weird song that could be about former vocalist Dallas Taylor’s girlfriend dying in a car accident; a man who dreams that he and his girlfriend will get in a car accident, he says goodbye to her the next day, and then she dies in an accident on the way to her destination; or a dream one of the band members had about not being able to love their spouse as much as Christ loved the church so he decides to cause their deaths via car accident to bring them to heaven together. The last interpretation seems to be the one favored by the band.7
Then there’s “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White,” which describes the painful dissolution of a relationship after the couple decided to have premarital sex. It’s an extremely hackneyed example of the demonization of sex in contemporary Christian culture, where the couple’s sexual encounter is immediately regretted and the break-up leads the song’s protagonist into casual sex – implied as dangerous – and wrist-cutting. What? That’s a horrible, inexcusable message to share with young teenagers who are curious and nervous about their budding sexuality.8
“Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape” is a coming-home-to-Jesus track. That, in itself, is not a bad message, but Underoath utilizes themes of unfaithful, ungraceful, and unloving in order to demonstrate how one can always return to the church. It’s a concept straight out of the New Testament itself from Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son , but it doesn’t seem quite right to be said by one much less divine. The use of the word “escape” in the song title is a little condescending, as it implies those who do not wish to step into the light of the church are attempting to escape their problems or some other way. Perhaps that isn’t what Underoath insinuated in writing this track, but as an outside observer, it’s feels lofty.
“Reinventing Your Exit” is about someone “crossing the line” and putting the protagonist “up against the wall,” whereby all one’s grace has run out toward that person. Within the context of Christianity, it seems contrary to the universal love and acceptance that the religion espouses. The message of “I’m angry at you but I still love you” that is a foundation of Christianity isn’t present, just the “I’m angry” part – as by the lyric “Right now we’re just looking for the exit / This is the way I should have done things.” “Reinventing Your Exit” could have been a great song about sacrifice and unyielding love even when someone’s a total dick, but it lacks on the forgiveness aspect, resulting in a rather confusing message.
Underoath’s later albums Define the Great Line, Lost in the Sound of Separation, and Disambiguation demonstrated the band’s maturity of instrumentation, self-awareness, and belief. They’re Only Chasing Safety will have a special place in my music library since it was such a big part of the metalcore/punk scene that inspired my passion toward extreme music – just like my copy of Vixen 03 by Cussler – but there are serious issues that make modern listens guarded and hesitant to recommend.
[The deluxe edition of They’re Only Chasing Safety features new album artwork by Jacob Bannon of Converge and the Deathwish Inc. record label – it’s the green one on the right at the top of the page – in addition to four bonus tracks. The first was first featured on a compilation album called Music on the Brain, Vol. 1, and later released as a vinyl single and as a bonus track on Japanese pressings of They’re Only Chasing Safety. The other three tracks are demos from Underoath’s sessions with Atlanta producer Matt Goldman. The production is sludgier and dirtier, without the crisp sheen of They’re Only Chasing Safety. They’re better than the published results.]
1. Young and Aspiring – (3:04) – ★★★★★
2. A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White – (4:27) – ★★☆☆☆9
3. The Impact of Reason – (3:23) – ★★☆☆☆
4. Reinventing Your Exit – (4:22) – ★★☆☆☆
5. The Blue Note – (0:51) – ★★★★☆
6. It’s Dangerous Business Going Out Your Front Door – (3:58) – ★★★★☆
7. Down, Set, Go – (3:44) – ★★★☆☆
8. I Don’t Feel Very Receptive Today – (3:42) – ★★★★☆
9. I’m Content with Losing – (3:55) – ★★★☆☆
10. Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape – (4:17) – ★★☆☆☆
11. I’ve Got 10 Friends and a Crowbar that Says You Ain’t Gonna Do Jack [Deluxe Edition Bonus Track] – (5:00) – ★★★★☆
12. The 80’s Song [Deluxe Edition Bonus Track]10 – (3:59) – ★★★★☆
13. You’re So Intricate [Deluxe Edition Bonus Track]11 – (3:54) – ★★★★☆
14. Smic Tague [Deluxe Edition Bonus Track]12 – (3:29) – ★★★☆☆
Overall [Deluxe Edition]: ★★★☆☆
1“Reflecting on The New Wave of American Heavy Metal – Metal Injection,” Metal Injection, accessed 22 November 2015, http://www.metalinjection.net/editorials/reflecting-on-the-new-wave-of-american-heavy-metal
2He has since stated that he remains good friends with the band, which is pleasant to hear.
3Also known as “un-black metal” or “white metal.” Horde’s Hellig Usvart is a worthwhile listen for the curious.
4It’s funny how attractive metalcore was to Christian bands back in the day.
5… which is a hard thing to discuss without sounding like an attack on the faith. The issue with bands like these is that criticism of the artistry too easily comes across as criticism of the message, but that’s an entirely different discussion for another time.
6A reference to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, in which Bilbo Baggins tells his nephew Frodo Baggins that “It’s dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” It’s a wonderful quote that describes the fancy of starting an adventure in a whimsical yet cautioning tone. I love it.
7Reaaaally hoping that it’s not the last one. I have trouble confirming any perspective through Internet sources, and unfortunately I don’t have access to early interviews. See this post: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=6327
8It has some of the best instrumentation on the album, too.
9I used to enjoy the instrumentation of this song, but now that I understand its message it’s difficult to like it.
10Demo of “It’s Dangerous Business Going Out Your Front Door.”
11Demo of “I’m Content with Losing.”
12Demo of “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape.” Pretty good instrumental.