The career of Tonight Alive has been a curious path of highs and lows. 2016’s third outing, ‘Limitless’, divided opinion as they shifted from pop-rock to a synthpop-centric sound. The Aussie collective have now returned albeit as a four-piece following the departure of guitarist Whakaio Taahi. On paper, ‘Underworld’, appears promising with its deeply personal lyrical nature and guitar-driven sound.
‘Book of Love’, bridges the gap between ‘Limitless’ and ‘Underworld’ with its energetic tempo and subtle use of synth keys. However, the slick production shine it’s given doesn’t have the impact you’d hope from an opening track. Thankfully, ‘Temple’ quickly arrives with straight-up rock guitars, a catchy chorus and Jenna McDougall’s confessional words striking a chord as she opens with “I’m intoxicated by my depression”.
In the run-up to its release, McDougall’s introspective and cathartic songwriting became the main focus. While ‘Disappear’ and ‘Temple’ admirably highlight her mental struggles, McDougall’s issues doesn’t truly shine until the closing trio. ‘Last Light’ is a steady paced, harmonious full of lyrical relief. ‘Looking For Heaven’ is the token ballad yet McDougall’s emotion is executed with cathartic relief. While ‘My Underworld’ (featuring a certain Mr Corey Taylor) nicely drifts along before both vocalists effectively bring closure, both lyrically and figuratively, to the album.
Despite McDougall’s lyrical openness, ‘Underworld’ is hindered by production niggles. Songs such as ‘In My Dreams’, ‘For You’ and ‘Just For Now’ suffer from the accessible shine given. However, it’s clear Tonight Alive can deliver big choruses in abundance. Songs such as ‘The Other’ and ‘Crack My Heart’ thrive with soaring emotion and conviction. Later cuts, ‘Burning On’ and ‘Waiting For The End’, do their best to match but don’t quite pull it off.
Having tested the synthpop waters last time out, ‘Underworld’ is a safer effort. Although it’s far from exceptional, due to one too many forgettable tracks, Tonight Alive have found their feet again as a promising, melodic rock band.
‘Underworld’ by Tonight Alive is released on 12th January on Hopeless Records.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)