Before Tampa, FL's own Underĝath metamorphosed into a "scene-core" juggernaut, garnering legions of Christian and secular fans alike with their brand of post-screamo chaos, they were a young stylistically-black metal-leaning metalcore band (back when metalcore meant bands like Zao and Shai Hulud) trying to make a name for themselves on Chad Johnson's legendary Takehold Records roster alongside other notables such as twothirtyeight, .hopesfall., Narcissus, and Few Left Standing. Founding father Dallas Taylor led the then-four-piece with Corey Steger on guitar, future second guitarist Octavio Fernandez on bass, and some 14-year-old kid named Aaron Gillespie on the drums. Together, they set out to make an impact on the scene with their intense live shows, wrenching lyrical themes, and unbridled devotion to informing their listeners of the Truth. To that end, they employed a raw, aggressive sound that would be much more tight, polished, and solid (to the point of perfection) on their following record, Cries of the Past; here, however, their youth shined through, ultimately leading to a record that was equal parts beautiful, bold, immature, and unfocused. Overall, though, Act of Depression was uncompromisingly heavy, loud, and a good step in the right direction for a bunch of kids out of Ocala.
I first heard this record after hearing songs from Cries of the Past, which would become my personal favorite metal record of all time, so it's hard not to cut the Underĝath boys a little slack. Although, as I've read, this record is pretty widely despised by critics and fans of Chamberlin and Gillespie, it's easy to see glimmers of the almost-self-unaware greatness that dominated their next release and much of the one after that. That being said, there are also some glaring criticisms (which the band would correct later).
Dallas Taylor, while a passionate and normally skilled vocalist, is at his weakest on this record; his screams are very dry on this album and are much more shrieky, lacking the control and body of later releases, and he employs a Jake Luhrs-like midrange growl peculiar to this record that, while succeeding at being downright creepy at times, mostly sounds like a weak attempt at straight-up hardcore vocals. The one time he does bring the menacing growl of Cries of the Past to the forefront (in the latter half of the title track), it's devastating and scary, but seems quieter than the rest of the vocals for some reason. Corey Steger does a pretty good job holding up the guitar section, doing his best to make up for the lack of a second set of strings; the tone is classic late 90's metalcore with a liberal dose of black metal riffage tossed in, making for some goosebump-inducing riffs like the second one in "Heart of Stone." Surprisingly, the clean guitars are somewhat diverse on Act of Depression, offering up some memorable moments such as the Liberate Te Ex Inferis-rivaling creepiness of the intros to "Watch Me Die" and "Act of Depression," as well as the second clean break in "A Love So Pure" that remains one of my favorite guitar pieces to this day. Octavio does his best to fill the void of a second guitar, offering up some gnarly bass breaks, but only when he made the switch to guitar would the true chemistry between Steger and he become apparent. On this record, however, Aaron Gillespie steals the show, and unlike post-Dallas Underĝath, it's because of his drumming and not his often-feminine vocals (which make no appearance in this record other than in the background during the hidden track). The kid was a beast on the kit for his age, and this record is worth even a brief listen just to hear what Gillespie could do when he had brutal "blackcore" riffs to work with.
Lyrically, this album is blunt and uncompromising, tackling topics such as rape ("Innocence Stolen"), abortion ("Burden in Your Hands"), and suicide ("Act of Depression"). While lyrics such as "You should have thought about the baby before you had sex" and "I thought he loved me, but now my insides bleed" may not be the most subtle or poetic (and inevitably, I'm sure the guys got trashed a few times over by cynical fans for their apparent lack of experience with their chosen subject matter), you can't accuse this band of being ashamed of what they believe or trying to hide it underneath vague prose. Besides, heavy music warrants heavy lyrics, right? Surprisingly, the cheese factor is avoided for the most part save for 1) the closing minute of "A Love So Pure" (not that crying out "Jesus Christ, I love you" is cheesy at all, but Dallas trying to go for the sideways Marilyn Manson-sounding vocals kind of makes me wonder if Aaron contributing at least a touch of vocals would have been such a bad thing after all) and 2) "Spirit of a Living God" (which is painful to try to listen to all the way through; the "I'd just like to speak for a second" monologue would have been good enough as a standalone hidden track).
Another thing old Underĝath took a lot of trash for was the unusual length of their songs, which is somewhat unsurprising in a scene with a notoriously short attention span. However, unlike songs such as Becoming the Archetype's "Elegy" and Zao's "All Else Failed" that achieve their mammoth length by drastically slowing down, Underĝath rips through anywhere from 6 to 10 minutes of metal at full tilt in the spirit of old Metallica. And while this approach produced some hiccups (a couple of the riffs in "A Love So Pure" could have been trimmed for brevity, and the intro to "Act of Depression" should have been cut way down), Act of Depression, for the most part, holds your attention and refuses to just drag through its six true songs (Speaking of attention grabbers, these guys must have really liked the number 5; a 55:55 run time coupled with an encircled "5" as its disc art, not to mention the title track is #5
odd, but strangely engaging. Not to mention their next record had 5 songs and got a well-deserved 5-star review from this site).
Act of Depression has often been made out to be one of those "you love it or you hate it" albums, but all things considered, I find myself in the minority with my positively-leaning mixed opinion. For all that Underĝath did wrong on this record, they did just as much right, if not a little more. This record isn't a masterpiece by any stretch, but it's a fun listen and a great history lesson for any fan of the band. Don't buy this on Amazon, though, unless you really, really want it; you'll be lucky to find it under $100. It's out of print, so I'd recommend just downloading it from a reputable site. It's not Cries of the Past, but it's worth a listen.
- Review date: 11/29/11, written by Steven Powless of Jesusfreakhideout.com