Tonight Alive – ‘Underworld’ (Album Review)
It’s easier to play with smoke and mirrors than it is to tell the truth – and Tonight Alive’s latest album is all about the latter.
Underworld is fuelled by brutally honest psychological self-exposure, exploring as it does vocalist Jenna McDougall’s dark side. Having fought an extended battle against chronic fatigue and depression, McDougall displays an impressive willingness to tackle her mental health issues head-on using words, melodies, and one epic vocal. Lead single Temple is a case in point, referencing the black dog within the first eleven seconds while a great groove reinforces the strength and resolve necessary to put McDougall’s point across with perfect clarity.
A couple of tracks later, Underworld’s core song The Other drives that honesty-related point home before In My Dreams and For You bring the intensity down a notch. Next up, Crack My Heart is one of the best songs Tonight Alive have ever written. Full stop. It’s just heavy enough to ensure maximum impact without slipping over the dividing line between hard-edged rock and full-on metal. It also captures a rarely-acknowledged fact – that neuroticism isn’t a dirty word, but rather a potential source of unstoppable motivation.
Elsewhere on Underworld, opener Book Of Love, third track Disappear, the stomping Just For Now, assertively widescreen wake-up call Waiting For The End, and U2-esque love song Last Light all add up to high-quality glue that keeps Underworld’s standout tracks held within the context of a great alt-rock album. Burning On is another core cut, highlighting the need for social support in troubled times, and Looking For Heaven is another stunner, a dramatic piano ballad that places Jenna McDougall’s vocal front and centre and allows it all the space it needs to fly as far as desired.
Then, we have the perfect closer: My Underworld.
Getting Slipknot / Stone Sour vocalist Corey Taylor on board for My Underworld was a genius move. Underworld’s farewell song is a second dramatic ballad, and one for the rock history books in terms of sheer awesomeness. Any duet in this area runs the risk of becoming overly cheesy and clichéd – but McDougall and Taylor mean what they sing, and that fact pushes My Underworld to some incredible, masterfully arranged heights.
Overall, Underworld is a purebred and mature modern rock album with some sick standout moments, and not a single song that made me want to press the skip button. More than that, it’s a victory won by spiritual strength over inner demons. Respect.
LTK Rating: 90% (Essential Listening!)
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Underworld drops January 12; pre-order it on iTunes here.