Released: 2006, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
As one of the founding fathers of metalcore, Unearth can be viewed as both a savior and a pariah. Along with Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Lamb of God and As I Lay Dying, Unearth contributed to the mushrooming genre by crafting one of the finest albums of the last half-decade—2004’s THE ONCOMING STORM. That album breathed life into a tired scene and brought passion, aggression and skill to the table. On the flipside, THE ONCOMING STORM fuelled an endless string of copycat bands, all vying for even a shred of respect and success that Unearth has earned, that has flooded the market with half-baked clones and bandwagon-jumpers. Because of this saturation, fans have been exposed to a tremendous amount of metalcore so how does Unearth circa 2006 measure up? Put simply, III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE is as much a landmark album as THE ONCOMING STORM was. Unearth has toured relentlessly in support of their last album and has undoubtedly been exposed, not only to the new music of their peers, but also that of those younger bands trying to outdo them. As a result, Unearth has honed their craft, streamlined an already deadly sound and perfected it to a “T.” Punishing breakdowns, venomous vocals (no clean singing here, folks!) and oh-so-sweet dual guitar leads contribute to 45 minutes of near-perfection. The metalcore genre may be sagging under its own weight but Unearth gets beneath it all and wades through the muck and mire to deliver what may be the metalcore album of the year in III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE.
Unearth is relentless right from the opening seconds of “This Glorious Nightmare” as Trevor Phipps’ paint-peeling screams and ferocious roar contribute to a stellar vocal performance. Executing a well-timed but not overused breakdown is essential to the genre and Unearth are masters at it. The song goes from a speedy, breakneck pace to a chugging middle section that launches into a silky-smooth guitar run. At this point, Mike Justian’s military-like drumming paves the way for Phipps’ call to arms—“Lift me up, tear me down”—and a brutal, blood-curdling conclusion. Much like “Black Hearts Now Reign” from THE ONCOMING STORM, “Giles” is chock full of flashy guitar runs, exhausting drum patterns and just enough melody behind the basic thrash riffs to stick in your head. Guitarists Ken Susi and Buz McGrath play off each other on the opening salvo of “March of The Mutes” in true Metallica fashion (does anyone else evoke memories of “Blackened” here?), while the slower tempo of “Sanctity of Brothers” gives them room to breathe and properly flesh out their riffs. “The Devil Has Risen” is unmatched in brutality, delivering back-to-back speedy guitar licks, rolling double bass and several spine-jarring breakdowns. Guitar fans will soil themselves over “This Time Was Mine.” Tremolo-picked riffs are placed alongside pinched squeals and the Susi/McGrath tandem really strut their stuff here. “So It Goes” will also diddle the guitar fan’s buttons as Susi and McGrath cook up a tasty treat of Iron Maiden/Judas Priest-inspired leads and riffs jam-packed with hooks and melodies before letting loose with a sizzling solo. “Bled Dry” is ripe with a glossy riff that snakes through the entire track. Unearth further showcases their excellence in the breakdown arts here as Phipps hollers, “It’s a war!” before the rest of the band digs in for what is arguably the finest track on the album. After being kicked, beaten and battered for nearly three-quarters of an hour, the oddly-titled but soothing instrumental, “Big Bear and The Hour of Chaos,” takes things home on a crest of impressive guitarwork and subtle piano.
As good as Unearth is, one cannot help but feel somewhat of a “been there, done that” vibe with III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE. Through no fault of their own, Unearth is a victim of its own success and the line of bands seeking to dethrone them as one of metalcore’s bigwigs is endless. At the end of the day, Unearth is doing nothing new or original but what they do—metalcore—they do well. That being said, for every ten albums that cross my desk, half are metalcore and this tends to get really old, really quick. At the drop of a hat, the MySpace generation will get burnt out and move on to the next big thing and metalcore has surely reached its apogee, so one has to wonder how much more life is left in it before grinding to halt. Not only that, the creative well is running dry which calls to question where this leaves a band like Unearth in five years. Still, within the sole context of the album, metalcore doesn’t get much better than this.
What with so much competition out there, Unearth had a lot to prove on III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE and they have clearly bettered themselves as songwriters and musicians in just two years. Drawing further inspiration from eighties thrash and European metal, the guitar parts will appeal to metalheads as much as the reined-in breakdowns will get the hardcore contingent something to excited about. This cross-genre appeal helped elevate Unearth to the level of success they are currently enjoying and honing those elements into a finely-tuned, nearly flawless masterpiece as III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE is the end result of two years of dedication, blood, sweat and tears. Look for this one to be a contender for album of the year.
KILLER KUTS: “This Glorious Nightmare,” “Giles,” “March of The Mutes,” “The Devil Has Risen,” “So It Goes,” “Bled Dry”