You don’t expect to hear this about a rock album, but Tonight Alive’s new album is, in one world, beautiful.
Underworld is the fourth studio album from Tonight Alive, released with Hopeless Records (New Found Glory, Moose Blood). It’s the last album with founding member Whakaio Taahi as lead guitarist and lyricist.
I was blown away by Underworld. Every track is rocking and has something unique about it; no track sounds identical. You can practically feel the love, time and energy Tonight Alive poured into making this album, and it pays off in a big way. The instrumentals take you high or low at just the right times, getting your heartbeat pumping hard before slowing it back down. Jenna McDougall’s powerful vocals are amazing as always, soaring above the music and hitting some crazy high notes. The lyrics go through themes of self-acceptance, love, defiance, ignoring others’ opinions, and more: all coming together to create an album laden with inspiring tracks.
The album starts with “Book of Love,” a song about giving in to a forbidden love (“They won’t find us in the book of love“). The song is energetic and live, and “Temple” continues that energy. The two opening tracks are electric, building up your excitement for the rest of the album. “Temple” was the first single off Underworld. It has one of my favorite melodies on the album. McDougall sings about the controversy of calling our bodies temples, something that’s normally safe and holy, when hers feels like anything but safe and is tainted with mental illness (“If my body is a temple/Why does it hurt like hell?“).
“Disappear” features the beautiful vocals of PVRIS’ Lynn Gunn on the harmony and bridge. This is a personal favorite from Underworld: As I mentioned in my review, McDougall sings softer on this track and allows the instruments to carry the song’s force. She muses about running away and escaping the stresses of life. McDougall and Gunn’s harmonies are beautiful, and I’d love to hear more from these two talented women!
“The Other” refers to the other, darker side within each of us, the parts of ourselves we constantly battle with. It also looks at how others have certain expectations of us (“Why everybody looks at me like/I’m not what I ought to be“), and how you should be nothing but your unapologetic self. “In My Dreams” describes wanting to stay in the pleasantness of dreams rather than face the struggles of reality. Much of the song’s intensity lies in its beat, particularly on the choruses. There’s also a spoken bit near the end, adding a haunting depth to the song.
The album takes a breather at its midway point with “For You:” a soft, loving ballad to someone who accepts the singer mistakes and all, and is her support system. “Crack My Heart” kicks things back up again, and is one of the most intense songs on Underworld. The song is a conversation between McDougall and a winged man, who offers her a place to heal her broken self. When the song first released, Tonight Alive described the song on Instagram as “a lover’s request for ecstatic liberation.”
“Just For Now” is a plea to a former lover to “love me just for now,” as their love feels like the only way out of a tough space. “Burning On” encourages one to move on from the past and keep pushing through the pain. As someone who has struggled with letting go of the past, this song was wonderfully motivational and empathetic. “Waiting for the End” is a defiant song, refusing to fear living and the end like everyone else.
Underworld‘s last three songs start getting emotional, but don’t worry: they’re not overly sappy. “Last Light” vocalizes how it feels to still love someone who walked out of your love; the descriptions of love are nearly heartbreaking with the sheer emotion in the lyrics. “Looking for Heaven” is about taking life slowly, realize that we all get what we need in life–even if it’s not what we thought it would be–and yes, looking for heaven. I don’t believe that in this case, “looking for heaven” has a purely spiritual meaning. Heaven here could mean your happy place, the people who make you happiest, etc.
The album closes with “My Underworld,” featuring Splitknot’s Corey Taylor. This “underworld” McDougall appears to refer to the unknown future and all it holds for us. Taylor’s voice has a grittiness that contrasts the otherwise softer track, and adds a certain level of grounded to the floating-in-the-clouds feel of “My Underworld.”
Underworld is officially one of my favorite Tonight Alive albums. It has a great intensity without being overwhelming, and as I said earlier, it’s so beautiful. There’s a good mix of faster, high-energy tracks and slower, toned-down songs that allow you to breathe. I can certainly see the maturity in Tonight Alive’s sound and how far they’ve come as a band. I enjoyed their next step in their musical journey, and I’m excited to keep listening to Underworld!
Like what you hear? Check out Tonight Alive on Spotify to hear more! Be sure to also follow Tonight Alive on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also check out their website for tour news, new music and more!
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