Released: 2008, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
If road miles measured the success of a band rather than record sales (or these days, “friends/plays” on MySpace), Unearth would be right up there at the top of the heap. Since first crushing all expectations and definitions of metal with 2003’s prophetically-titled THE ONCOMING STORM, the Massachusetts quintet has toured endlessly behind that album and its follow-up, 2006’s III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE. Unearth has built its fanbase from the ground up and with hard work rather than breaking through with overnight success and certainly hasn’t taken anything for granted on its new album, THE MARCH. Chock full of the same mix of gloriously melodic guitars and blistering breakdowns as its predecessors, THE MARCH lets up on the throttle a bit after the heavier, more thrash-based III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE. This is hardly an insinuation the band has gone soft and vocalist Trevor Phipps sounds just as vicious as ever (nope…still no clean vocals) but there is a noticeable increase in melody here over the last release. That comes from the unbeatable guitar tandem of Ken Susi and Buz McGrath, craftsmen of the finest riffs and fluid solos this side of the European melodic death movement. At its core, THE MARCH sounds more like the big brother of THE ONCOMING STORM than anything, so fans of that record—and its undeniable impact upon metal today—can revel in Unearth’s latest output which is sure to catapult the band even further up the heavy metal food chain.
“My Will Be Done” wastes no time in setting the mood for the record with a sweet guitar duel between Susi and McGrath and later, a fiery solo that will have budding air guitarists leaping off their couches. Unearth’s trademark mix of neck-snapping groove, pummeling breakdowns and finely-tuned riffage is on full display here for what could very well be the song of the year. “We Are Not Anonymous” and “The Chosen” (love those downtuned guitars on the latter) are just as heavenly with anthemic choruses that will be powerful calls to arms in their live set. “Crow Killer” clicks on so many levels with a monster riff, gang-style chorus and a vicious breakdown (other bands build the song around breakdowns; Unearth does the opposite which is why they remain the leaders) that is equally melodic and heavy. “Hail The Shrine” and “Grave of Opportunity” sizzle with guitarwork that owes as much to neo-classical giants like Malmsteen as mid-nineties In Flames but the emergence of modern touches keep the music fresh rather than dated and forced. With its slower tempo, “Letting Go” is a bit of new path taken by the band and reminds me a lot of the more progressive flourishes that Misery Signals injects into its music. It works, too, and the unique tone of the guitar for the solo is especially cool. On top of everything, the crystal-clear production of Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz and Andy Sneap’s mixing and mastering has crafted THE MARCH into a new realm of sonic perfection that will give this album plenty of use as a reference disc for high-rolling metalheads’ snazzy sound systems.
While III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE came out strong, it wasn’t quite as lasting as THE ONCOMING STORM. It upped the heaviness ante but lacked that certain melodic panache that drilled the songs into your head for all eternity (admit it, you can hum the main riffs of “Zombie Autopilot” and “The Great Dividers” without batting an eye). So along comes the perfect companion piece in THE MARCH and, not to discredit III: IN THE EYES OF FIRE as that record is a mighty fine slab of metallic gold, but THE MARCH is a much more cohesive and vastly superior record overall. The riffs are tighter, more memorable and certainly played with a finesse that cannot be stressed enough. Even with Derek Kerswill (Seemless) taking over the chair from Mike Justain, the change in personnel hasn’t affected the recorded output of the band one bit. Reigning in the speed is a curious move from Unearth but to these ears, it is a welcome return to when metalcore was still budding and fresh. Going backwards to move forwards has served Unearth well here as THE MARCH is a record that will re-define the rules that they themselves wrote just five years ago.
KILLER KUTS: “My Will Be Done,” “Hail The Shrine,” “Crow Killer,” “Grave of Opportunity,” “We Are Not Anonymous,” “The Chosen,” “Letting Go”