The disbanding of Underoath has been discussed enough, but the band’s impact on the scene cannot be overstated. The band were a rare perfect storm of talent, creativity, and marketability, and that combination catapulted them to a level of stardom we may never see again in metalcore. With such high levels of talent oozing from every individual member, it makes sense that at least one of them would end up starting a new band. Thankfully, the backbone of the band’s lyrics for the band’s golden age, frontman Spencer Chamberlain, has emerged with his new project Sleepwave. While at times Chamberlain was merely a vocalist and lyricist in Underoath, Sleepwave gives him the opportunity to have more control on the musical side of things. Chamberlain provides lyrics, guitar, bass, keys, and programming throughout the album, with Stephen Bowman (the only other official member of the band) providing assistance along the way in all of those areas.
The result of Chamberlain’s tinkering and toiling is Broken Compass, an album whose main ambition appears to be to establish Sleepwave’s sound as one that is entirely different from Underoath’s, while maintaining Chamberlain’s talents as a songwriter and lyricist. For the most part, the album is very successful in doing this. Chamberlain’s lyrics have always been introverted and self-annihilating, and that trend continues throughout the album. However, this time around, there’s a bit of twist. The melodies used throughout Broken Compass is unlike that of any Underoath release that Chamberlain was a part of, which adds a new dynamic that was never present (due in large part to the fact that it wasn’t really needed) in his previous writings. This approach will find much more sing-alongs throughout the band’s concerts, which seems to be the goal. Much of the tracks show attempts at radio-friendly choruses, especially lead single “Through the Looking Glass” and the band’s debut track “Rock and Roll is Dead and so am I.” These tracks still have the lyrical bite you’d expect (the chorus of “Rock and Roll is Dead…” ends with the lines “We’re all dying/just on the inside”), but with Chamberlain projecting his songs in a different way, they’ll be able to possibly reach a wider audience thanks to the slightly more accessible sound. Vocally, Chamberlain shows off more of the clean vocals he added to his repertoire on Underoath’s Disambiguation, but with how aggressive his voice naturally sounds, the grit and emotion are never absent. When he does unleash his screams, they are often subtle and supplementary to his clean vocals, but the accentuation is something that very few rock acts will be able to do as well as he can.
Where this effort suffers, however, is in its musicianship. As mentioned earlier, this is the first time Chamberlain has attempted to have more creative control with the musicianship behind his lyrics, and while these ambitions are welcomed, they are at times a bit misguided. The guitars and bass often seem same-sounding throughout the album, with only the keys and programming providing a particular identity for each track. This could be due to the fact that it’s Chamerlain’s first go-around writing his own guitar parts, the lack of other members to provide ideas for the songs, or something else entirely, but if the band is going to cash in on the potential they’ve shown here, that will need to be adjusted and improved upon. That being said, the drumming throughout Broken Compass, provided by touring member Chris Kamrada is driving and impressive throughout, and is the clear choice for the best instrumental performance on the album. In addition, the electronic elements and programming are promising aspects of the album, as the minimal-yet-meaningful approach taken will help give the band’s sound even more potential to diversify their sound in the future.
It is understandable that Broken Compass will be inevitably compared to Spencer Chamberlain’s previous work with Underoath, which immediately creates a chasm of expectation that will be difficult to ever overcome. These comparisons will show that while Chamberlain’s songwriting and lyricism are still at the level we’ve grown accustomed to from him, the growing pains of taking over as a band’s sole creative force rear their ugly head, seen through the album’s same-sounding guitars. However, if the listener is able to avoid the Underoath comparisons, they will uncover an intriguing debut album from a band that has the talents to build on a solid first showing and turn into something even more.
Recommended if you rock: Anberlin, 30 Seconds to Mars, AFI’s Burials