Released: 2014, eOne Music
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Massachusetts vets Unearth are one of the few metalcore bands that actually got the “metal-to-core” ratio reasonably right over the years. Some would argue any “core” is too much, but if it's going to be a component it might as well be incorporated the way these guys have been doing it over what is now six albums.
For one thing, the quintet have used breakdowns sparingly, often relying instead on more traditional metal grooves - a la Pantera - when it was time to bring down the hammer. The guts of Unearth’s bluster typically was straight up thrash - and the band employed producer Terry (Metal Church, Overkill, Pantera) Date on their most thunderous release, III: In The Eyes of Fire, for some extra metallic wallop. And while frontman Trevor Phipp’s barking vocals certainly boast a hardcore bite, he steered clear of the guttural death rattle or keening clean singing that have become such metal/deathcore cliches and just kept hollering.
Watchers of Rule is perhaps the band’s most all-around “metal” album, setting the tone with soaring guitar intro - simply titled "Intro," and which sounds a lot like the prelude to Metallica's "Blackened" - before blasting off in a fusillade of blast beats from new drummer Nick Pierce with "The Swarm." There isn't a whole lot of let up from there.
"Lifetime In Ruins" offers a more martial pace, but is loaded with surging grooves that manage to stay just this side of the breakdown fence. Ditto "From The Tombs of Five Below," though Pierce - who proves himself to quite a force here - picks up the tempo a bit. And when the more melodic chorus comes, Phipps shouts his way right through.
After the relatively clean, sleek production of their last couple albums, courtesy of Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, Watchers has a noticeably rawer, dirtier sound that accentuates the heaviness and helps keep Ken Susi and Buz McGrath's sweeping leads and harmonies from sounding too fanciful. Their tandem guitar work is no less superb here, it just blends better most of the time, matching the muscular tone of the material instead of dancing over the top.
The most prominent "core" moments come well into the album, on the agitated double-shot stomp of "Trial By Fire" and "To The Ground." But Unearth shake things loose again on the more frantic "Burial Lines" and never look back, finishing Watchers on an almost death metal roll that is ultimately quite satisfying.