Charging out of the late 90s Massachusetts underground in a storm of thunderous riffs and focused aggression, in 2011 Unearth proudly stand at the forefront of modern metal. With Darkness In the Light, their fifth full-length, the quintet have delivered their most honest, powerful, and compelling statement to date, driving a fist into the collective gut of every image-obsessed wannabe metal band currently cluttering up the landscape, and setting a new standard when it comes to marrying precision brute force and exhilarating melody.
Following the release of 2008’s The March, an armor-plated beast of a record that cemented their position as kings of the machine-gun breakdown, the band once again earned their reputation as one of the hardest working bands in metal, hitting the road hard and further building upon their fervently devoted legion of fans. However, while proud of both that record and its predecessor, 2006’s III: In the Eyes Of Fire, vocalist Trevor Phipps believed they had yet to revisit the heights reached on 2004’s seminal The Oncoming Storm, a record that has remained a firm favorite in the hearts of many fans. “It’s funny because when you do a new record you always think it’s your best one at the time, but up to this point I think The Oncoming Storm was probably our most solid record – until now,” he states plainly. In fact, brief exposure to Darkness In The Light makes it abundantly clear that it’s not only poised to steal The Oncoming Storm’s crown but in fact stands as the record fans have long hoped for. “We didn’t sit around listening to The Oncoming Storm going ‘oh, we should write more songs like this’, but it definitely feels fresh to me in the same way that record did,” guitarist Buz McGrath concurs. “Our last two records are great records but I didn’t get that same feel. This one is special man, this one is our best yet.”
Both long term fans and those coming to the band for the first time will not fail to be struck by the sheer vitality of Darkness In the Light and the unconstrained energy that surges through its eleven tracks. From the instant the urgent, insidiously catchy “Watch It Burn” explodes to life it’s clear that this is Unearth playing on a whole new level, putting absolutely everything they’ve got on the line and intent on blowing everyone out of their path. “Times are tough but the band has a renewed energy to get out there and take what’s ours,” Phipps states adamantly. “There’s a bunch of bands out there that are all trying to get the spotlight, so it’s a case of fight or die, and our fists are flying man.” With every track kept short and to the point – only “Watch It Burn” breaking the four-minute mark – this is state of the art, ruthlessly honed metal that backs up Phipps’ assertion with some serious muscle. The likes of “Shadows In The Light” and “Arise The War Cry” reach anthemic heights previously only hinted at, the utterly crushing attack of “Eyes Of Black” and closer “Disillusion” capturing the band at their balls out heaviest, and throughout, the muscular grooves wrenched from John “Slo” Maggard’s bass pummel mercilessly while the blistering shredding of McGrath and guitarist Ken Susi is spectacular, and sure to inspire armies of metalheads around the world to air guitar like there’s no tomorrow.
Lyrically, while Phipps once again touches upon the political – most notably on “Watch It Burn”, which sees him decrying the ineffectual governmental system at work in the contemporary US – Darkness In The Light is a far more personal album. The somber “Equinox” touches upon internal struggles with feelings of depression and defeat, while “Last Wish” concerns real-life incidents that saw people close to the vocalist involved in accidents that placed them on life support, “and it’s about [being in that position and] trying to tell the people who are holding on that you’re not coming back, and to pull the plug”. Crushing closer “Disillusion” stands as a powerful “fuck-you song” against anyone who “at the end of the day makes you feel lied to”, and the recurring theme of focusing on negatives “even when good things are going on around you” served to inspire the title of the record.
Having written such a powerful brace of songs, to ensure they were captured exactly how the band wanted them they enlisted the services of über producer Adam Dutkiewicz. Alongside his ‘day job’ – playing guitar in Killswitch Engage – Dutkiewicz has put his name to landmark records from As I Lay Dying, The Acacia Strain, and All That Remains, as well as helming all of Unearth’s previous releases bar the Terry Date (Pantera, Deftones) produced III. However, prior to heading into the studio the band decided that it was in the record’s best interest if they parted ways with drummer Derek Kerswill. “Derek is an amazing drummer, and we’re still good friends, but his style wasn’t what we were looking for on the new record. He’s more of a rock guy than a metal guy, and we wanted something a bit more extreme,” McGrath explains. With this in mind, they recruited long time friend Justin Foley, best known for pounding the skins alongside Dutkiewicz in Killswitch Engage, and the perfect choice to ensure the album boasted the unrelenting rhythmic backbone it deserved. “I think he slips under the radar a little bit as far as drummers go but he’s an outstanding technical drummer,” McGrath enthuses. “We wrote the record on a drum machine, and Ken would write these kinda ridiculous drum parts and Justin just came into the studio and nailed everything we threw at him, he’s an amazing dude.”
With such lyrical honesty and devastating music, it was up to Phipps to match this ferocity in his vocal performance, and this was a challenge he was eager to tackle head on. “I think the songs on The March are solid and there are certain parts where I did well, but I think that’s probably my worst vocal performance, and for the last two plus years I’ve been frustrated with my vocal contribution to that record,” he admits candidly. “So this time out I was like fuck man, I really need to knuckle down and destroy myself here. I was really physically and emotionally invested in this project, and by the end of it I was drained and just at wit’s end, but that’s what it took to make sure that I gave the best performance I ever have.” Bolstering his riveting performance, for the first time since The Oncoming Storm, Susi also contributed some clean vocals to three songs, imbuing them with extra texture and emotional depth. “Ken’s got a great voice, and when we were writing the songs, I immediately gravitated toward anything that stuck out to me and sounded a little bit different, and this was definitely one of those aspects,” McGrath states. “It’s not something we were gonna do on every song, but it’s tastefully done and it kind of adds a different dynamic where songs needed it. I was kicking his ass to kind of ‘man up’ and make it a more aggressive kind of singing and it came out great, those songs are really exciting to us.”
Gearing up to take Darkness In The Light around the world and undoubtedly leaving a trail of mosh pit devastation in their wake, thirteen years into their career Unearth are more driven and determined than ever, ensuring that their fans get exactly what they crave from their heroes. “A lot of bands come and go, and it’s tough to make a living in heavy metal right now,” McGrath states. “But we’re still touring because we love it, and as long as there’s people out there who appreciate what we do we’ll keep on going. We just made the best record of our career and we want as many people to hear it as possible, so come on, let’s go.”
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