Album Review: Tonight Alive – Underworld
Just under two years ago, Tonight Alive released their full-length album Limitless, which had old fans and newcomers head to head over the band’s unexpectedly poppy sound. The band had a total makeover stylistically–even vocalist Jenna McDougall went from vibrant colored locks to rocking a buzz-to-bald cut and 90’s goth-inspired stage outfits on Warped Tour. Now, as the band transcends into their newest era–with the departure of guitarist/songwriter Whakaio Taahi and harnessing a sound reminiscent of their highly-acclaimed full-length The Other Side (2013)–the Australian quartet have truly outdone themselves and come full circle with their latest full-length Underworld.
Listening to Underworld front-to-back feels like the definition of self-care, with inquisitive and honest lyrics that encourage the listener to dig deep and renew. The album accurately encompasses both the process of songwriting for release and therapeutic listening as a fan. The track listing takes you through episodes of struggle and uncertainty on topics such as image and self-love, relationships, security, as well as the need and stride for transformation on multiple levels of livelihood.
With the opening track “Book of Love” chiming in with a haunting chant of “It’s out of our control,” there is this theme of control strung throughout the album, tethering between the lack thereof and striving to gain it back again. The succeeding track “Temple”, which was released as the band’s first single, entertains this power play when McDougall proclaims, “Yes, I know I’ve lost what you call control. If control isn’t real, then I never had it”. The song was written in a time when McDougall was experiencing severe depression, and the lyrics honor this very touchingly. Though it’s one of the first on the line-up, it is certainly the most powerful and emotionally charged song of the album.
As if this would be any surprise to long-time fans, Jenna’s vocal range is impressively wide and breathtaking to even the most amateur music appreciators, demonstrated effortlessly in “Just For Now” when she reaches goosebump-worthy notes as the song progresses. Underworld is a brilliant conglomerate of sing-songy melodies, heavy guitar riffs, and eclectic drum patterns that make each song so distinct from one another, such aspects that are so elemental to Tonight Alive’s classic concrete sound. “Just For Now” is undoubtedly a track that showcases this in the strongest way.
It would be borderline sinful to not acknowledge “Disappear”, the track featuring Lynn Gunn (of Pvris), seeing as fans of both bands have been praying for a collaboration since the front-women took spots on each other’s stages at the Hartford, CT date of Warped Tour in 2016. In regards to both the writing process and the song itself, McDougall shares that the song is “about the escapist inside all of us… The lyrics discuss freedom, but this time with a flavour of anonymity and detachment. Disappear was written with the intention of sounding neither like Pvris or Tonight Alive, and aimed to capture the sonic imagery of a long straight highway out of your comfort zone.” What is so interesting about this song in regards to McDougall’s take is that the song truly does not sound entirely like a Tonight Alive nor Pvris song, for it embraces strong elements of both–something rare to find in even the most successful musical collaborations. Such an iconic pair of lyricists were bound to intertwine and create an anthem for any lost soul, a perfect fit as the narrative of Underworld progresses.
Other stand out tracks include “In My Dreams” and “Waiting For The End”. In “In My Dreams”, it is easy to relate to the lyrics, “I feel so alien in the place that I call home”. This sense of hopelessness is then followed by the ideal of finding that hope and security in the soul of someone else, even if it only exists in a dreaming realm. On the other hand, “Waiting For The End” seems to be more about the individual. The track starts out with a more gentle, soothing rock vibe as well. The lead vocals are low and tamed, and as the guitars overlay and McDougall’s voice crescendos in the bridge, we’re sent into a punchy power-chord driven chorus where she recites, “…I am not afraid to live, I’m not just waiting for the end”, bringing back that acknowledgement of control with a new confidence in her ability change and grow into a healthier state of mind.
Another major highlight of the album is its overall diversity, as the songs jump from hard-hitting, soul-searching anthems to slower, ethereal ballads such as “For You”, “Last Light”, and “Looking For Heaven”. The latter in particular will be a breath of nostalgic air for long-time fans, as it is the staple acoustic song for Underworld (as “Amelia” and “You Don’t Owe Me Anything” have been for past albums). The placement of this song as second to last on the line-up is fitting for the message it provides. In the chorus, McDougall sings, “My eyes roll back inside my head, I bet you wonder what I see up there. Envision a place where I feel like I am, when I came back to, I said I’ve been looking for heaven.” These lyrics symbolize self-reflection and visualization–the need to look within in order to heal and pursue happiness, ultimately to find Heaven itself.
When the band had announced the album’s release, McDougall explained the meaning behind the title Underworld itself. “…I named it that because it reflects the ugly parts of me that I wasn’t ready to see until now.” The title track of the album, featuring Corey Taylor (of Slipknot), gives way to this message as the duet sings, “Strangely, I feel at peace as I come into my underworld,” where McDougall is coming to terms with her existence and honing in on the strong energy produced throughout the rest of the album. For this reason, it is only natural for “My Underworld” to be the closing track of what has been a musical journey of struggle, reflection, and metamorphosis of the holistic self.
Underworld is officially out on Friday, January 12th via Hopeless Records. The album is available for pre-order here!
Book Of Love
Disappear (ft. Lynn Gunn)
In My Dreams
Crack My Heart
Just For Now
Waiting For The End
Looking For Heaven
My Underworld (ft. Corey Taylor)
Hot off the release of Underworld, Tonight Alive will be heading out on their North American co-headlining tour with Silverstein, with support from Broadside and Picturesque, starting January 19th. Tickets are still available here.